Hey Daydreamer

How do you know if the children you are teaching are paying attention?

Teachers and parents of the UK 🇬🇧 rejoice your children are going back to school. But after such a long time out, how much of a attention span will they have and can teachers adapt their delivery to respond?

Legoland, Windsor has a car park at the top and the attractions at the bottom of a rather steep hill. Each year my family joke about being ‘Lego fit’. In March we struggle to walk up the hill after a busy day, by October we are running up. Same people, same hill, but what has changed? The difference is that we are able to build up our stamina during each visit until we can conquer our goals. It’s the same in the classroom, our more attentive students will be ready to sit through five one hour lessons a day, but what of those who are used to turning the camera off and going for a snack or a snooze during an online lesson? I can guarantee they will not be ‘Lego fit’.

The hill at Legoland Windsor resort is brutal

The skills of focusing and paying attention are critical to student learning. According to Piontkowski et al. [40], “Educators often talk about attention as a general mental state in which the mind focuses on some special feature of the environment. As such, attention is considered essential for learning. It is hard to believe that the student who disregards instruction will benefit from it. Thus, the teacher needs reliable signs of the student’s state of attention.”

It is challenging, however, for teachers to spot signs of student attention in large classrooms with so many students.

But as we have seen, additional challenges arise in online classrooms, which often limit teachers to watching students’ body language in video feeds, where they cannot see, for example, distractions in the students’ environment. Harder still when the camera is turned off, often due to over zealous safeguarding leads rather than a students wish not to be seen.

An area of real interest is the study on how biometrics and machine learning approaches can help teachers evaluate their students’ level of attentiveness in both physical and online classrooms and introduce appropriate interventions to improve learning outcomes.

It is worth checking the research on this. Although the field of automated attention tracking research is steadily amassing new publications, no survey works have charted the progress of research or encouraged new research. An open opportunity to explore a key area which affects pupil progress.

By focusing on key behaviors such as eye gazes, body movements or social interactions, it is possible for a teacher to measure the level of engagement in their lessons and tailor their delivery accordingly. The next few weeks will be a challenge as we all adapt to a different dynamic within our classrooms.

HOW TO choose which course to study at University

A beginners guide


Register with UCAS

Congratulations you are now in the System! Even if you have no intention of going to University we always recommend you submit a UCAS application, even if you have no intention of using it. This allows you the opportunity to change your mind further down the process.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Which course shall I choose?

OK so applying to University can be a complete minefield, especially with increasing competition from Universities for your (or your parents) hard earned cash. At this early stage it is always best to keep a fairly open mind as to what and where to study. You may want to study a subject you already study, one that you enjoy and also one you know about. You might however choose one that you have not studied before but sounds really interesting, personally, I chose Politics because I knew it was a subject I would be still interested in three years down the line and also as I was unsure as to my future career ambitions, it kept my choices post-uni wide open.

If it is a subject you already know:

Will you still be interested in that subject for a further three or four years – enough to motivate yourself to work and research independently? Does it differ at degree-level, compared to at A-level, GCSE etc? This is where you should look at examples of modules you might study. Any thoughts on life after university – what do you want to do and could your subject choice help reach with this goal? Of course for BTEC students you have limited options as you will need to study the course related to the one you are currently studying, so BTEC Business students will look at business related degrees and BTEC sport students will look at sport related degrees.

Is it a subject that relates to a career idea?

Maybe you’ve always dreamed of becoming an journalist? Or perhaps a work experience gig you didn’t have any expectations for, has opened your eyes to that career? How is the subject you’re considering at university viewed by the industry it is connected to? Do you need to take it to actually go into that career? For example, you don’t have to do a journalism degree to become a journalist – many degrees are considered. Have you done any/enough work experience to see if this is the right career for you? Don’t just base your idea of a career on what you’ve seen in films and television – it could be quite different.

Is it a subject that relates to something new?

Maybe you’ve always been interested by the big questions in life and now you’re considering a philosophy degree. This isn’t the most common A-level subject, so it’s possible you won’t have studied it prior to applying to university. Do you know what’s involved? Try speaking to a careers adviser, researching online or exploring in detail the type of modules you’ll study. As above, your perception of a subject may be very different from reality. What can you do later? While you may be really interested in a particular subject, keep in mind what your career prospects might look once you graduate. You never know, you might learn about jobs you never knew existed.

Things to think about when choosing a course:

I always recommend all students take the Spartan Test via the Sacu-student website. This is good for those of you unsure which course and/or which career to follow. It takes all your interests/dislikes and strengths and weaknesses and makes recommendations for future options.

So which course should I look at? Well there’s a wide variety of options and you will need to be aware when choosing, for example do I consider?:

  • Joint honours? Where you can take two subjects with equal weighting.
  • BSc/Ba? – Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts
  • Modules & weightings? – Which topics are of interest? For example if studying History, which period will you be studying and also which areas? Every university will have different ideas about this.
  • Year Abroad/Industry? – Before Brexit these were very common with our EU partners, post Brexit this might offer up opportunities for Universities to take a more global perspective. This will be an interesting development, but answers will not be obvious.
  • 3 year or 4 year “sandwich”? – Increasingly popular these include a year in industry, often leading to post degree apprenticeships.
  • Graduate opportunities? Where will my course take me after university, most courses now publish theit progression to employment rates.
  • Entry requirements – Always a big call, how confident are you of reaching those grades? There’s is little point in applying for History at Durham with A*, A*, A* requirements if your teachers are predicting CCC.

You have five choices, it is always best to divide those five up into 2 x ambitious, 1 x confident and 2 x safe options. Although being in the system means that even if you do not get any offers from your initial applications, you are perfectly placed to enter clearing and be in that perfect place at a later time. Seek advice from professionals and never panic. That pathway may not be one you are initially expecting, but it will work out for you in the end. I promise.

HOW To choose GCSE options

I was sat on a park bench last week and I overheard two Year 9s debating their options for GCSE’s next year. You could tell by their complete bewilderment that they did not have a clue where to start. It is a stressful time anyway to be choosing options, but to have been in school so infrequently over the past 12 months, this job has become even harder, despite the efforts by the local school to provide the information virtually. To be fair I completely sympathised, I struggle to choose which coffee to have, what hope have these poor souls got?

So here’s a handy guide for students and parents to help navigate the minefield of GCSE options.

1. Should I Base GCSE Options On What I’m Good At?

This is a really tough one. The more you enjoy a subject, the more likely you are going to be good at it. Being good at a particular area might help you manage your GCSE workload, too, because you’ll be able to complete work more quickly and get good results. What’s more, learning more about a subject you have natural ability in might be useful when making career choices later down the line.

If you’re not sure how good you are at a subject, you can talk to your teacher and ask for advice.

2. Should I Base GCSE Options On What I Enjoy?

It’s fine to consider choosing subjects you like at GCSE level. You’ll be studying that subject for several periods a week for the next two years, so it’ll definitely help if there are aspects of the subject you enjoy! Even if you hate school, there’s bound to be a subject you connect with. This could work to your advantage, because if you enjoy a subject you are more likely to work harder and get a higher grade in it. It’s okay to do a subject just because you like it.

When choosing subjects you enjoy, ask yourself two things:
  • What’s the content of this subject? (Are you interested in the things you’ll be learning about?)
  • What skills does it require? (Do you think you can build the skills this subject requires?)

If you’re worried about your final list of choices, look at the list and ask yourself: Is my final list of options a balanced one? Is it all just ‘easy’ subjects, which I like but might not be useful to me when it’s time to do further education and/or get a job? Or is it a fair mix of useful stuff and fun stuff? (Not forgetting that useful stuff can be fun too!)

3. Should I Choose A GCSE Subject Because I Like The Teacher?

It’s a tricky one, because a great teacher can inspire you to do your best in a subject. However, how much you like your teacher should not be one of the key factors when choosing your GCSE options. That inspirational teacher might leave school, after all. There’s no point doing a subject just to impress your favourite teacher, either. They won’t be in your life forever. The person you most need to impress is yourself, because you’re the one making choices to make your future a better one!

4. Should I Choose A GCSE Subject Because My Friends Are Doing It?

It’s better not to just choose a GCSE option because your friends are taking it. Doing different GCSEs shouldn’t have any effect on your friendships – it will just mean you have lots to talk about when you’re together at other times. Plus, there’s a chance you’ll make additional new friends in the subject you choose, too.

5. How Much Should Money And Future Salary Be A Factor When I’m Choosing GCSEs?

It’s really tempting to look up the average salaries of a whole bunch of jobs to see what GCSEs could lead you to a job that pays well. If you’re asking yourself what jobs pay well, it’s possible you haven’t got a set career goal and you’re still open to options.

Typcially, science, technology, finance and business careers pay really well. Maths is a compulsory GCSE in the UK, so you’re covered there. Taking double (or triple) science could work well for you too, but you have to mainly consider subjects you enjoy and subjects you’re good at when choosing GCSE options.

You’ll be at your happiest if your eventual career is one you feel able to do, and one you enjoy at least several aspects of. Never forget that there’s the opportunity to get good pay in most walks of life if you make the most of what you’ve got and fortune is on your side. Your pay is likely to increase with experience, whichever career you end up in!

6. Whose Advice Should I Listen To When Choosing GCSE Options?

Teachers at your school are really well-placed to offer you advice and support; do talk to your teachers if you have any questions about your GCSEs and how it all works.

Careers advisors are extremely well-trained and prepared to help you with your careers and GCSE-related questions – whatever your questions are, they will be able to offer support, resources and information to help you with your choices.

Your parents can also help – they may not understand clever new point systems and things that weren’t around in their day, but they should have your best interests at heart.

Your friends will be going through the same stress as you, so you can bounce ideas off them if you like… but it’s important to remember it’s your final decision.

7. Should I Go For More Or Fewer GCSE Subjects? What’s More Impressive?

Both employers and further education establishments like universities look for high passes in your qualifications. Universities and colleges may only accept  9-4 GCSE pass grades for many degree courses. More GCSEs means you’ll have a well-rounded education and lots of variety in what you learn. Streamlining the number of GCSEs you take may help you give more time to each subject and increase your chances of a high pass. Do keep in mind that each GCSE you take on will require a substantial amount of work.

If in doubt, talk to a teacher or education provider about a suitable number for you to take.

8. Are My A-Level Choices Affected By The GCSE Choices I Make Now?

Some A-level options don’t require you to have studied them at GCSE first – for example, psychology, economics, media studies or law. For other subjects you’ll most likely need the GCSE, so check with your teacher to make sure. Some A-levels, like science, may no longer be open to you if you choose a single science at GCSE. Taking double award science (core + additional) or triple award science (physics, chemistry and biology) at GCSE will help to keep your future options open.

9. Do Universities Care About Which GCSE Options You Choose?

Most universities need you to have English and maths GCSEs… which is handy, because you’ll be studying them as core GCSE subjects anyway.

For some degrees, or careers, their requirements for GCSE and A-level subjects aren’t too limiting. For example, most unis don’t mind which subjects you’ve studied before if you want to do a law degree – they just want you to have done well in the subjects you chose.

In some cases, you’ll need specific A-levels (and therefore the GCSEs you need to be able to do those A-levels) to get on certain university courses (e.g. the sciences, history or foreign languages).

Thinking of going to uni? Want to explore degree ideas? This list of degree subjects and typical A-level requirements from Which University can help you decide which GCSEs would be good choices to take.

10. Should I Think About How Courses Are Marked When Choosing My GCSE Options?

Individual GCSEs will be marked in a variety of ways – through reading and writing coursework completed either in lessons or as homework, exams and perhaps spoken exams (as in the case of languages). You can think about how you perform well, and if there are any marking formats you find particularly challenging.

Your teachers are there to help you choose the most appropriate subjects for you. You can ask them if there’s an oral test or if there’s laboratory or fieldwork involved, and you can also ask them what percentage of marks is given for coursework.

If you have anything like dyslexia or dyspraxia, make sure the school knows and can accommodate your needs in periods and GCSE exams.

11. How Important Is It To Get Good Grades In My GCSEs?

If you want to give yourself a wider choice of options after school, getting good grades is quite important. Universities and colleges only accept 9-4 GCSE pass grades for most courses. If you think you might struggle to achieve these higher pass grades, ask for support from teachers in choosing a set of GCSE options that will help you focus on your strengths and what you most enjoy. If you enjoy a subject, you’re more likely to do your best and perform better in it. You’ll still be wanting to get a balance of what you’d most enjoy studying for two years and what will be most ‘useful’, though.

The good news is that there are an increasing number of options out there even if you didn’t get good grades in your GCSEs. For one thing, you could have the opportunity to retake your GCSEs; you can talk to your teacher about that after your GCSE exams. For another, there are so many more apprenticeships out there nowadays that can be really flexible in their academic requirements. Aim for the best grades you can, but don’t make yourself ill with worry – there are still options out there for you if things don’t work out the way you planned.

12. How Useful Is GCSE Advice From Online Student Forums?

Teacher and parents are key sources of advice. However, if you want to see what other young people think, online forum advice can sometimes be even more useful than advice from a friend who knows you well (and might want you to take the same GCSE options as them). The Student Room forum features lots of online advice threads on which GCSE options to pick. The advice often comes from young people who have already chosen their GCSE options and gone on to A-levels or uni, and their advice is often firm but fair – the kind of thing a teacher would say, but from a young person’s perspective! But remember, as with any advice, don’t ever just listen to one person, there are always lots of different opinions and experiences. And always run your thoughts past the professionals  – in this case your teachers!

13. Does My Final GCSE Options List Look Balanced?

This is a helpful question to ask yourself once you’ve come up with a list of GCSE options you like the look of. Does it look like it’s got a good general spread of subjects (so not pure science and maths, and not pure art or sport)? Does it feature ‘traditional’ subjects (like history or geography) so that you’ve got plenty of future options and a chance to impress universities and employers? Does it feature subjects you’ll enjoy doing and want to learn? If the answer to all these questions is ‘yes’, the chances are you have a balanced final list of GCSE options that will make your next two years rewarding ones and set you up for later life.

14. Does It Matter If I’m In A Lower Set For My GCSEs?

Everyone has different abilities, strengths and learning patterns. What’s most important is that you’re in the set that’s right for you.

Being in a lower set can affect your grades if, for example, you’re put in a lower set for maths, and entered for a GCSE paper where the highest grade that can be achieved is a 4-5. This might be a problem if you want to take maths at A-level (you’ll normally need a maths GCSE 6-7 grade or higher to make this happen).

If you understand why you were placed in a lower set, don’t feel like a door’s been slammed in your face. There are still loads of options left open to you in the future, from apprenticeships to uni courses which allow 4-5 grades as requirements.

If you think you’re in the wrong set, talk to your teacher to find out what they’d need to see from you (work attitude? Better marks?) before getting you moved up into a higher set.

15. Will I Ever Regret My GCSE Choices?

If you ask around, you’ll find many people wish they’d not taken a certain GCSE, or with they’d had a bash at taking another GCSE. But a lot of the time, these are not life-changing regrets – they’re more wishes that the two-year experience of taking GCSEs had been even more useful, or even more enjoyable.

At the end of the day, whatever GCSE options you pick will result in two years of you learning things you didn’t know before and giving yourself the chance for a better future. If you do end up regretting GCSEs, it’s more a case of not winning as much as you wanted than actually losing out.

There are plenty of options for more education further down the road if you feel you made a big mistake with your choices. You can also swap GCSEs if you change your mind early on – speak to your teachers, but do consider if you’ve fully given your chosen subjects a chance.

19. How Can I Cope With The Immense Stress Of 6hoosing GCSE Options? On Some Days I Don’t Even Know What I Want To Have For Breakfast!

Fear not – you can do this! It’s tough to choose, but you’ll feel quite good about your final list of options once you’ve done it. And know that however impossible it might feel to make this big decision, you’re not alone. Everyone finds it tough to choose their options, yet somehow it happens and you can breathe a sigh of relief and move on.

Hopefully the advice you’ve found here will help some of your choices become a bit clearer. We wish you luck in your upcoming GCSEs!

Remote Learning should spark a digital revolution in schools

By Iain Hunter follow Iain on Twitter – @musical_IH

This lockdown has been very different to the first. Back on March 23rd last year I remember thinking how on earth we were meant to to deliver a curriculum remotely without the resources we have now? We had our emails, we had Show My Homework, we had other remote learning sites such as MyMaths, Edmodo and the lifesaver that has been Focus On Sound. However lessons were only existing on a to-do list on Show My Homework and I spent my days creating resources and writing schemes of work.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved that time to spent doing what I’ve always meant to get round to doing in normal times, but it was far from a satisfactory form of digital education. This lockdown has been very different. Microsoft Teams has meant that our school can closely follow the school timetable and expectations are extremely high for both students and teachers. Office365 has also opened up the world of working digitally with students creating work on One Note and submitting assignments. Everything has become integrated making collaborative working much more normal. It has meant that have needed to completely change their way of learning, and some break decades old habits to teach their subjects successfully.

I love embracing these new ways of working. I’ve hated sitting through the quagmire of the staff shared areas of all the schools I’ve worked in as I can never find what I’m looking for. Microsoft Teams (other video calling apps and collaboration spaces are available) has meant that everything is saved where it should be. Excel spreadsheets can be made ‘live’ and edited by multiple colleagues at once, and shared with colleagues who can use this when discussing in meetings and phone calls with parents. Worksheets are never lost, there’s no need for scissors and glue, lost exercise books or textbooks. Work can be copied and pasted from external websites and shared from one note. YouTube clips can be imported and annotated. Work can be marked by the power of the stylus on an iPad screen. I’m a massive convert to this way of working!

This has got me thinking. This experience of remote learning really should spark conversations in senior leadership team meetings up and down the country about the going completely paperless. Completely digital. There are examples of this way of learning in many different schools in the country. I observed one school in West Sussex where every member of staff and student had an iPad and not a lose worksheet in sight. Students were creating music using Garage Band and recording themselves making music live. Progress can be evidenced immediately with work saved centrally and marked instantaneously. Score writing programmes and apps such as Dorico and Sibelius can be used in the palm of each students’ hand.

It really is the future! Of course there’s a cost implication to all of this technology. There’s the Office 365 subscription, plus the cost of equipping every student and teacher with the technology they need. I recently heard an advert where the proposed cost of an iPad is £6 per device per month. Now is that really going to be much more expensive than several thousand exercise books, textbooks, reams of paper, glue sticks, scissors, pens, pencil and photocopier toner cartridges…oh, and the cost of repairing those photocopiers when they inevitably break. There really are few downsides to this.

We often hear the arguments about handwriting in matters like this, but I ask myself when the last time I wrote something down. We have smartphones to make notes these days. I really do think I’ve seen the future during this lockdown. Now all it needs is for SLT to take the bold move and go for it

HOW TO Teach Remotely

Lockdown Remote Teaching and Learning Strategies

I have really enjoyed online lessons so far in this second major lockdown, perhaps my experience of personal tutoring has made the transition easier. I read one colleague describe her experience of remote teaching so far “is that it feels like normal teaching on steroids!”. She’s right, everything seems to be exaggerated. Yet we are so caught up in the novelty of online teaching, it does seem that the basics are being missed. How are we stretching the most able? Has EVERY student understood the lesson? Focus on the basics and the online lesson, becomes part of our every day teaching practice.

The greatest benefit I have seen from online teaching is simply the willingness of colleagues to share their experiences free of charge. It has always troubled me that educators have made money out of fellow teachers, moving outside of the classroom to dictate directed pedagogical methods. These methods are then adopted as gospel by uncreative SLT teams who then in turn use the latest educational fad to beat up weary teachers.

In my opinion, these so called ‘super educators’ are the problem, not the solution.

Yet, we are seeing a real change where those at the coalface are sharing ideas and strategies to help everyone navigate their way through this challenging time, we are all in this together seems to be the mantra.

This second lockdown seems to be much better than the first, teachers are well prepared and armed for the challenge, parents are happier too as the quality of the service means less dependence on them, allowing the adults to focus more on their own work. Reading other blogs and experiences, the following are some pieces of advice I would like to share to help support the delivery of quality remote teaching and learning.

45 minutes are the maximum lesson time

The number of schools who still insist on one hour online lessons still astonishes me. Kids are sat in front of their laptops for the full hour, before logging off that one and joining another, utter madness. In real life there are a few minutes lost at the start and end of the lesson with students entering classrooms, taking coats off, registers etc. As much as ‘Do Now’ activities try to limit this disruption, at no point does anyone teach a full hour, yet online the expectation is there. It is so important that teachers don’t try to cram too much into their lessons and give themselves and their students a short break in-between lessons. So much more productive.

Try to get the balance between expectations and reality right.

There is some who argue you should avoid giving students too much work to complete during lessons and to finish off outside of lessons. Students who work at a slower pace may quickly become overburdened and anxious. This is true, but for the more able students there is the opportunity to really stretch them with deep questioning and extended tasks. The working memory has a limited capacity and is easily overloaded. If a student’s working memory is overloaded, their perception and ability for higher order thinking decreases. So, as with normal lesson preparation, when planning and delivering remote teaching, ensure that what you have planned avoids overloading a student’s working memory.

To avoid overloading working memory, consider using retrieval practice techniques: strategies to encourage students to store and retrieve information from their long term memory, as this reduces the demands on the working memory and develops their fluency in recall. The good news is that the capacity of the long-term memory is almost limitless!

On the other hand, the working memory can also be underloaded. If underloaded, you risk students becoming easily bored and less engaged, and you will lose their attention. The issue of boredom can be more problematic in the remote learning environment, as you cannot readily monitor their screens or other distractions that they might have.

The sweet spot is difficult to judge, that balance between stretching students and risking leaving them bored. It is a tough one, but so important to match.

Adapt key principles of teaching and learning for the remote context

When teaching online environment, far fewer non-verbal cues are available, if any. So it is more difficult, if not impossible, for the teacher to read body language and to survey the classroom to pick up cues from students and respond accordingly.

This issue can be alleviated by adapting some key principles of teaching and learning for the remote context and applying them. Many key principles of teaching and learning cannot be applied to the same extent or in the same ways in remote contexts as they are in the classroom. But they can be adapted for an online environment.

In what follows, ten adapted key principles are outlined.

1.    Try to replicate your classroom

As far as is practicable, try to plan your lessons such that they imitate your usual classroom lessons, both in terms of routines and activities. This gives the students a sense of normality that they are missing in many other aspects of their lives.

Try to break through the barrier of the computer screens by ‘over-egging’ the behaviours you normally employ to engage positively with students. This is vital at this time, as students are feeling isolated and need to know that you care.

Remember, also, that a classroom is a social and intellectual community, and by imitating that community online, you can support the development of an online community. This supports student engagement both with one another and with the teacher. (For more on this, see our earlier blog post.)

2.    Postivity is the key

A positive tone clearly underlies the success of any lesson. In a remote learning setting, students are even more dependent on the teacher’s positively and enthusiasm than in the classroom.

3.     Clear expecations and explanations

It is riskier to rely on students to let you know whether or not they have understood in a remote learning environment, because far fewer non-verbal cues are available for interpreting students. Alleviate the risk that students have not understood by ensuring that your explanations are as clear and coherent as possible.

4.     try to get work completed in lessons

Make the most of every opportunity to work in real-time, as you do in the classroom. For example, demonstrate modelling and scaffolding techniques, illustrate examples and share notes using digital file sharing platforms, live. Good ways to do this online include the screen sharing facilities on Skype or Zoom (both of which are freely available online), sharable documents in Google Docs (also freely available online), and sharable digital whiteboard facilities (Microsoft OneNote is particularly good for this).

5.     Time

We can often underestimate this in the classroom and in the remote classroom it can be more difficult to ‘get around the room’ to support students by, for example, answering questions. You may need to allow students more time than in the classroom to complete tasks.

6.    Encourage active participation

That tumbleweed moment – when you ask a question and no one responds, however pauses can actually be Regular pause points support formative thinking both in classroom and remote settings. For example, students can learn from one another through a discussion during a pause point, or students can use pause points to consolidate their understanding.

I am enjoying the breakout rooms on MS teams, allows groups to get together for further discussion and to share ideas. I am a huge fan of group work in class and now I have the opportunity to build collaboration spaces online, brilliant.

Pause points in a remote learning setting can also help to develop a culture of active engagement in the remote setting. Students should not just be present in the remote ‘room’, but actively engaging in the content of the lesson.

7.     Build in opportunities for independent learning and creativity

Encourage opportunities to learn creatively and stretch and challenge opportunities that students could undertake independently. This seems even more important during this period of lockdown, as students will not be engaging in their routine co-curricular activities and so many students will have more spare time.

8.     Reflect upon the ways in which you can provide effective and timely feedback

We all know about the importance of feedback, but also the time it can take. Try to avoid overburdening yourself with unnecessary marking by considering other forms of assessment that could be employed online. In particular, if working through videoconferencing you can assess work in real time, by providing feedback – written or verbal – on work that has been shared via email or viewable on a shared document.

Some shared document pages allow students to see the teacher’s comments in real-time – for example, Google Docs and Microsoft OneNote. OneNote allows teachers to comment on the work students are doing and has a ‘collaboration space’ where students can contribute their ideas, which enables peer assessment. This helps the teacher to check that students are on-task.

Alternatively, use mark schemes so that the students can mark their own work through self-assessment; this helps to build a culture of ownership and responsibility.

9.     Use regular, low-stakes testing

Regular, low-stakes testing helps to ensure that all students are ‘on track’. This can be conducted through, for example, starter activities and plenaries. This seems to be even more important in the remote learning setting, as there is a risk of some students becoming disengaged and falling behind.

10.  Stay connected

Students do not currently have opportunities to ‘drop by’ for additional support. Provide students with opportunities to contact you for additional support that they might need. However, ensure that you give clear boundaries in terms of your speed of response, to preserve your own well-being.

HOW TO create a quiz in MS Forms

Create a quiz in Microsoft Forms

In the first of our series on How to… Here is a simple guide on how to create a quiz in MS Forms. Regular readers of my blog will know that I rate MS Forms highly in its useabilty functions for online assessment.

1. Visit http://forms.microsoft.com and sign-in with your Office 365 Education account.
Note: Microsoft Forms is only available to education users.

2. Click New Quiz to open a new quiz.

3. Click in the Untitled form section and give your quiz a name and description.


Add questions to your Microsoft Form quiz

4. Click the Add question button and select the appropriate question type. Use the table below to help you choose.
Tip: Your quiz can include a mixture of self-grading and non-self-grading questions. Just remember that only the self-grading ones will be marked automatically!

Question typeExplanationSelf-grading?Useful for
ChoiceA multiple-choice (one answer) or check-box (multiple answers) question with no correct answerTip: Toggle on the Multiple answers option to make this a check-box style questionNoMultiple-choice and check-box questions that are not part of the quiz (e.g. selecting class or teacher)
QuizA multiple-choice (one answer) or check-box (multiple answers) question with a correct answer(s)Tip: Toggle on the Multiple answers option to make this a check-box style questionYesMultiple choice and check-box quiz questions
TextA short or long answer text boxTip: Toggle on the long answer option to give students a bigger box to type in.NoCapturing student names, email addresses, feedback, explanations and text responses
RatingA number or star rating out of five or tenNoCapturing student feelings about a topic, performance, activity, teaching method etc.
DateA date-picker boxNoCapturing date selections

5. Complete the question information as shown in the image below.
Note: This assumes you are using a multiple-choice question. The options to select will be a bit different for other question types.


6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 for each question you want to add to your form.

Select a theme for your Microsoft Form

A theme adds some colour and fun to your quiz!

7. Click the Theme button at the top of the screen.


8. Find a theme you like and click to select it. Click the Theme button again to close the themes pane.


Change your Microsoft Form’s settings

9. Click the Send form button at the top of the screen.
10. Click the See all settings link at the bottom of the pane.


11. Choose the settings appropriate to your circumstances. Here are some tips to help you (follow only those relevant to you!):

  • Want to make your quiz anonymous? De-select the Record the names of responders option
  • Only want students to complete your quiz once? Select the Allow only one response per person option.
  • Need your quiz accessible outside your school? Select the Anyone with a link option.
  • Want to close your quiz at a specific date and time? Select the Apply deadline option and choose a date and time
  • Want each student to see the questions in a different order? Select the Shuffle questions option. However, be aware that this will also shuffle questions like ‘Name’, ‘Class’, etc.
  • Don’t want students to see the correct answers? De-select the Display the correct answers after responders submit the form option.
  • Want students to see how many points a question is worth? Select the Show question points to responders option.

12. Click Back when you have finished configuring your form settings.

Preview your Microsoft Form quiz

Now that your quiz is ready to go, it’s time to check everything looks correct.

13. Click the Preview button at the top of the screen.


14. Use the Computer and Mobile buttons to see what your quiz will look like on different devices.

15. If you want to test the quiz, you can fill it in now.

16. Click the Back button when you are done previewing.

Share the Microsoft Form quiz with your students

The Send form button includes several ways you can share your quiz with your students. Use the image below to help you choose the best option.


See responses to a Microsoft Form quiz

You can see your student’s responses to your quiz on the Responses tab.

  • The Summary section shows the average score and a graphical representation of all responses. These are both updated in real-time when each student submits their quiz.
  • The Individual section displays each student’s individual answers, their grade and the time taken to complete the quiz.

You can also choose to download the responses into Microsoft Excel if you want to undertake deeper statistical analysis.

Harnessing research in tutoring

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Research has been used extensively in education and tutoring is no different. The deployment of Blooms taxonony or De Bono’s thinking hats are just as relevant in the tutoring world as it is in the classroom. This is why Castle Tutoring only enlists the support of experienced teachers, used to harnessing the latest academic research and ensuring that the latest des are brought to our clients to help boost their performance.

Think of yourself as a coach

Coaching is not limited to the sports field, Lyle (1999) suggests that before you model yourself as a coach, you need to understand the process of coaching. Before moving on to specific tutoring strategies, it’s important to get into the right mindset for tutoring. Too often, tutors get caught up in showing off their knowledge, and they lose focus on their students’ learning. Instead of thinking of yourself as an expert who is going to share your knowledge with your student, think of yourself as a coach.

What does it mean to be a coach? It means that rather than doing a lot of telling and explaining, you should think of as many ways as possible to get your student to do his or her own work and thinking.

The importance of deep processing

It’s not unusual for students put in a lot of time studying, think they understand the material, and then do poorly on their exam when asked to apply the concepts in a different way. Vygotsky is the general go to person for learning styles although the theory of DEEP learning has taken on many developments since. Take the following example cited in Effective Instruction for STEM Disciplines: During a physics course, students practice a problem in which they are asked to calculate how long it takes for a ball to fall from the top of a tower down to the ground. On an exam, the students are asked to calculate how long it takes a ball to fall to the bottom of a hole. Frustrated, the students protest that they weren’t taught how to do “hole problems.”

What’s happening here? Why don’t the students realise they are being tested on the same concept? The students memorized how to do the tower problem without really understanding the ideas behind it—this is called shallow processing. As a tutor, part of your job is to make sure your students engage in deep processing—thoroughly understanding the meaning behind what they’re studying.

Part of the problem with doing a lot of showing and explaining as a tutor is that these methods don’t typically encourage deep processing. By thinking of yourself as a coach, your job is to guide your students’ thinking so they achieve deep processing. How can you do this?

Ask questions

Questioning is one of the nine research-based strategies presented in Classroom Instruction That Works (Marzano, Pickering, and Pollock 2001). Rather than explaining, try asking questions to get your students to think deeply about they’re learning. As a tutor, one way to look at this is by thinking of your student as the one who should be doing the explaining. What should your questions do? They should help your student…

  • To actively involve students in the lesson
  • To increase motivation or interest
  • To evaluate students’ preparation
  • To check on completion of work
  • To develop critical thinking skills
  • To review previous lessons
  • To nurture insights
  • To assess achievement or mastery of goals and objectives
  • To stimulate independent learning

This doesn’t mean you should never explain anything to your students. That would just frustrate them to no end. When you do explain something, though, you need to make sure you follow up by making sure your student can explain the idea back to you and that they can apply the ideas to other situations. For example, if you find yourself explaining a problem to a student step-by-step, give them a different problem to try on their own. Don’t just use the same problem and change the numbers (remember the tower example?). Instead, ask your student to try a completely different problem that forces them to apply the concept in a different way. Really push your student to do the problem with as little guidance from you as possible. Remember, your students won’t have you there to save them when they’re taking an exam.

What about learning styles?

Most guides to effective tutoring encourage tutors to adapt instruction to the student’s learning style, so I’d like to take a few moments to comment on this idea. There are many different approaches, but in general, the approach goes something like this: Students prefer to learn in different ways. Some are visual learners, while some prefer to learn by listening (the exact categories vary). If a tutor can match instruction to the student’s learning style, then the student will learn better.

It’s important to point out that there is no solid research to support this hypothesis. In fact, there are some cases in which taking a learning styles approach can seriously harm a student’s ability to learn effectively. Sometimes there are ways of learning certain material that are simply more effective than others, regardless of whether a student prefers to learn that way. Preference doesn’t equal effectiveness. For example, I’ve seen “learning styles tips” for students that tell them if they’re auditory learners, they should audio record their lectures and listen to them over and over again! Instead, it would be more effective for the student to develop effective notetaking skills (even though this involves a combination of visual, auditory, and tactile styles) because it helps the student think about and process what he or she is listening to.

So, what does this mean for effective tutoring? Worry more about learning strategies than about learning styles. For example, if being successful at physics means you should draw a diagram before you start a problem, coach the student on how to do that. Try different approaches to add variety and to keep your sessions interesting, but don’t worry about trying to match your tutoring any specific learning style.

“I’ve figured it out!”

Let’s return to the idea of being a coach that I mentioned earlier. A good coach doesn’t play the game for you. He or she helps you develop the skills you need to play the game on your own. That’s what a good tutor does.

“If you get to solve it for yourself, you are doing the thinking. There is an ‘aha!’ kind of sensation: ‘I’ve figured it out!’—it’s not that someone just told it to me, I actually figured it out. And because I can figure it out now, that means I can figure it out on the exam, I can figure it out for the rest of my life.” (Quoted in Effective Instruction for STEM Disciplines)

HOW TO use Microsoft Forms for Assessment

Efffective assessment with MS forms

There are hundreds of excellent platforms out there to help with assessing students in schools. Yet, I cannot see beyond the excellence that is MS Forms, which when built in to the MS Teams function can help pinpoint and also more importantly help communicate students strengths and areas for development, almost instantaneously. Genius!

Regular readers of my blogs will be aware of the importance I place on assessment With Microsoft Forms for Education, you can create surveys, quizzes, and polls to share with students. Every form you create lets you collect data and quickly see results as they come in in real-time. You can share the quizzes you create with your students using any web browser. And if students are on mobile devices like a smartphone or a tablet they can access the quizzes you create too! Sensational stuff and allows me to check progress even through remote learning.

This data-driven approaches to understanding what is working in their teaching practices, because it makes the collection (and much of the analysis) of student-learning data automatic. Such data helps me to build stronger learning relationships with their students, because they know where each student is at in their learning progress

The school I am currently teaching in is using Microsoft Teams, and I have definitely found that Microsoft Forms are a total game changer. Forms is integrated directly into Teams so you can create, share and review assessments easier than ever. Whether you share these quizzes with just a few students or multiple classes, it helps you stay organized is this already powerful, collaborative space.

For those of you new to Forms There is also a training course from the folks at Microsoft that can help you learn how to create authentic assessments for students. When you take the course, you’ll learn how to use Microsoft Forms for both formative and summative assessments and all of the steps to make it happen. Today I produced a Year 11 assessment on the Cold War and a Year 10 assessment on Elizabethan England, organised the time for them to take it, attached it to their teams and can now sit back and wait for the results to come in. QbyQ analysis built in will also tell me where their misconceptions are. Perfect.

There are plenty of blogs to help get you started and hopefully you too can harness the power of assessment even remotely.

Returning to School Again

So this is my third ‘first day’ at The Windsor Boys’ School, 3rd September 1988 as an excited, yet petrified year 9 student, 3rd March 2003 as a trainee teacher and now 20th January 2021 as an experienced and mature history teacher. The reminders are everywhere. Some are written in large letters on the honours board, some seep back slowly (the smell of dusty old history books) and some creep up (a child’s face who you know looks familiar because you went to school with their grandparents).

You see, when you’re a teacher in the school where you were a student, you can’t hide from your past, even though people have moved on, the stories, especially the juicy ones remain. I was a prefect when the Queen opened the new building in 1994, the photo is on the wall, yet that same building now looks old and tired. that same building chimes to the sounds of the hundreds of students who have come and gone in the past 33 years, their voices still as clear as the day there were in school.

Though no official figures exist, the phenomenon of returners appears widespread. the first ‘teacher’ I saw was a chap called Ben who was a sixth former in my first cohort in 2003 another Robert was in my second set history class in 2008. As for the teaching staff they haven’t moved very far either, Louise is now the acting head, Tony, Mike, Phil, Mark, Caroline, Simon, Emma, James P, James C, Ian, Kim, Mel, Sue, Liz, they are all still here.

What binds us is a love of the school. And a love of the school is an undeniably positive attribute – we are emotionally invested in the place more so than any other.

But is it all positive? Below are three things for prospective returners to consider and three things for whoever is doing the recruiting to bear in mind.

For the returner

1. Imposter syndrome

Returning to the school first time, I had a huge feeling of imposter syndrome, after all I had been taught by some seriously impressive academics. Nowadays though, I am referred to as Mr Endacott an experienced teacher who probably taught your parents. Coming back to teach for a second time however does come with a health warning, it is and never will be ‘Just like the old days’,

I was shocked to find teachers no longer go to the ‘Vanni’ at lunch or smoke in the staff room toilets.

2. Part of the furniture

I have now spent three times as many years at my school as an actual grown-up teacher as I did as a student, unbelievably there are still staff there who taught me back in the late 80s. However, I am swamped by those I taught myself. Building professional relationships with colleagues becomes somewhat more complicated when your last encounter with them involved the confiscation of a pokemon card. I need to change my perception, to mentor the younger staff member and enable them to make the career progression they deserve.

3. Blasts from the past

But the real gutpunch link to your past is the parents. You teach the children of the children you went to school with and hung out with … out of school. Beware parents’ evenings that begin: “Hello, Mr Endacott, remember when…?”

Such occasions require a healthy dose of amnesia. It can be embarrassing but look on the positive side: you know these families well, and they you: the home-school trust that can be so difficult to build is often already in place.

For the school

1. Alumni

Raising aspirations via alumni stories is so much easier with a returner. In one assembly showcasing a range of talented people at the top of their respective fields – actors, comedians, charity directors, IT managers, medical research CEOs with penthouses in Manhattan – I asked the assembled throng, what do all these people have in common? The answer, revealed via grainy old school photos: they were all in Mr Endacott’s year. They went to this school. Like you. They all know where to get the best chip butty. Like you. And they have all gone down to Baths Island and jumped into the River Thames on a hot summer’s day. Like you. The sense of endless future possibilities was palpable.

2. Marketing

For me, attracting returners back into the fold is a clear indicator of a “good” school. Firstly, the school has enabled ex-students to achieve a decent(ish) degree; secondly, it proves that its teachers have inspired students to teach. As one returner says, “I think it is the best possible marketing for a school – we loved it so much we came back here”.

3. Knowing the context

Returners know the school, and its community. They understand that the funny smell in the air some mornings is the mars factory in Slough changing its flavour, not a caramel-scented chemical attack as the Year 9 gossips would have you believe. That is a huge benefit in building relationships that are so crucial for learning.

And so the adventure begins again, I am proud to be a Windsor Boy, but having been a Windsor Man and now a Windsor Old Git, I guess it is time to show the young ‘uns how it is done. Properly !

Teaching in Lockdown

Like every teacher in the country my job has changed drastically over the past year. Standing in front of children to share my passion for History every day is what I love most about teaching. I am very lucky in that I can do this now one to one through tutoring and thanks to a new contract teaching three days a week at my alma mater The Windsor Boys’ School, I can do this to larger groups at again.

But, like everyone, I’ve got used to a ‘new normal’. I am at home with my two children, while my wife, an inclusion manager at a Primary School has returned to work. It’s been amazing to spend so much more time with my children. At the same time, it has been hard to keep a family going while balancing the pressures of work.

Working from home I have to fit my job around my family – I try and find time to work whenever I can, often leaving the children to the dreaded devices. But as with families up and down the country we carry on regardless.

What I’ve really missed is talking to and interacting with the kids when I’m teaching. I have a stock outstanding lesson which involves writing essays, model answers, mark schemes and re-drafts. An approach which works perfectly in class and less perfectly on Teams, so after 18 years I’ve needed to adapt. My colleagues have been brilliant and a new teaching and learning group has been set up to look at different approaches. Some ideas include and I hope they don’t mind me sharing:

  • Using a second screen to complete the register while students are working during the lesson (phone, ipad etc)
  • Use of the rubric (to provide levelled answers) in the assignment section of Teams
  • Use of self-marking quizzes using Microsoft Teams Forms
  • Using the visualiser to show modelled answers/diagrams on a mini whiteboard.
  • Opening the ppt in Teams rather than as a window so that you can see the students while the ppt is open.
  • Use of the XP-Pen or WACOM to draw on a whiteboard or mark work.
  • Use of self-marking quizzes on GCSE pod
  • Using a live word document so that the teacher can see the work students are doing while they are doing it.
  • Break out groups on Teams so that students can do group work and teachers can monitor each group.

I’ve learnt a lot from all the ups and downs of this unusual time. Although there have been many challenges, there has also been a huge amount of positivity that has come out. For example, the appreciation for teachers and the way communities have come together. Now I’m really looking forward to going back to school and getting back into the classroom. But I hope we’ll all look back and take something from this time, which will shape the way we live our lives so that we all feel more grateful for what we have and what we do.