Shaun Allison

Shaun Allison

Shaun Allison is Deputy Head at Durrington High School, a large and successful comprehensive school on the south coast of England. He leads on teaching and learning, CPD and the use of data across the school.

Follow @shaun_allison

There are many different schools and theories on how to hone one’s writing technique. To discuss this further, Innovate My School regular Shaun Allison discusses a method developed by his peer Gav McCusker.

[English teacher Gav McCusker] has been developing a writing technique with his students that he refers to as ‘layered writing’. The inspiration for this was from great painters. In order to come up with an excellent piece of art as an end product, they build the painting up in layers. This slowly increases the complexity and depth of the painting with each layer. The following video clip demonstrates this nicely:

So how does the technique work?

Firstly, a discussion with the students about every artist needing a palette, in order to create a painting.


During this discussion, stress the point that the artist, like any craftsman/craftswoman, works carefully and slowly to do this – with concentration, patience and perseverance.

Jugyoukenkuu (or ‘Lesson Study’ as it is more widely known) is the Japanese art of teacher professional development. It involves the identification of an area of teaching that needs to be developed, by a group of teachers.

The group then plans a lesson together (the research lesson) to address that area of need (with a particular focus on specific students to monitor their progress). One teacher then delivers the research lesson, whilst the other members of the group observe the lesson. They then interview the target students to gauge their progress and engagement during the lesson. The lesson is then reviewed by the group, with strengths and further areas for development identified. The process is then repeated (with somebody else teaching the research lesson) based on this review – with a view to refining the teaching strategy being looked at.

Over the last couple of years, Deputy Head and Geography teacher Chris Woodcock has been trying to develop strategies to support and challenge the low ability students he teaches.

Being a content heavy subject, these students struggle to recall the knowledge required to answer exam questions effectively, and as a result, they have been missing out on valuable marks. With this in mind, Chris wanted to develop a quick and easy strategy they could use to improve their recall of information. He has been doing this by using very simple diagrams as visual prompts.

So, having taught a topic, a simple diagram is used to summarise the main ideas. This can be easily memorised and then used to recall the main facts - an example follows:

Durrington High School has a student-led CPD scheme where students take teachers for a tour around the school and identify aspects of the classroom environment which they think either aid or distract from learning. This week, students were asked their opinion on actual teaching practices - their honest responses are a rare insight for effective CPD.

Earlier in the week I had met and briefed our Student Leadership Team on what we as teachers were focusing on this year – The Big 4: Questioning, Feedback, Independence and Challenge.

They were then charged with thinking about and coming up with examples of good practice in these areas, based on their own classroom experiences.

As usual, they did a brilliant job. Below is a record of their thoughts.

As some exam questions become more long-winded and essay based, it is crucial that students understand the specific subject matter towards which it is centred, by identifying and being able to differentiate between the main command word, any other key words and any clues the question provides as to what the answer should include. This four-part method helps students to understand the usual types of essay questions by dissecting it into parts.

Our science department have been developing ways in which they can support students with their extended writing – particularly in response to the new style exam questions.

They have had some excellent support from Karen Parks (@betterscience1) who must also be credited for some of the resources and ideas here.

Step 1 – Understanding command words

Show students an image like the one to the right. Ask them to then do the following to the mugs, one at a time:

1. Describe the mugs

2. Explain the differences in the mugs

Reflecting on her year long ‘Learning Innovator’ project, Physical Education teacher Lizzie Wolstenholme investigates different apps for the iPad to determine which ones are most effective at helping students to learn new sports skills, such as the backhand in tennis. One particular app proves that iPads can be beneficial in providing an opportunity to replay students' technique and compare it with the teacher's in a split-screen synchronisation.

Her evaluations suggest that iPads are incredibly diverse in their application into different subjects, largely down to their portability, high specs and the lengthy extent of the ever-growing, possibly immortal, app store.

When I first took up the role of introducing ICT into our PE department I have to admit, I thought I might be spending the year trying to find innovative ways to use flip cams, stopwatches and televisions.

I now can’t believe how wrong I was. I feel like the many uses of ICT are so vast and that actually, I’m only just scraping the top of the iceberg.

My role so far has involved working closely with two classes, a GCSE Dance group and a Year 9 Gifted and Talented group. These classes have been subject to top of the range ICT access, such as iPods, iPads, Twitter groups and Edmodo as a homework tool.

It may be somewhat of an unspoken truth that some teachers instantly gauge the students' attention, whether by mastering their own pedagogy or just looking slightly scary, while others are simply swamped by a mass of bellowing noises and propelled objects. Maybe a tad too stereotypical.

There is no substitute, nevertheless, as Deputy Head Shaun Allison points out, for teachers to discuss their methods and build up each other's capacity for future development. It is the most original form of collaborative CPD and as such has potential to be the most effective. It raises morale as a team, boosts confidence for implementing new strategies and encourages constructive feedback. In his post, Shaun provides a framework, a case study and additional benefits of coaching:

In 2009, I was fortunate enough to have a book published – The Coaching Toolkit. At the time I had been doing a great deal of work with my co-author, Mike Harbour, to set up coaching in the school where I was working. We started off with a group of interested staff and then grew it across the school – with a great degree of success.

Four years later, in a new school and a very different context, we are looking to launch coaching again. It will be the main driver for CPD in 2013-14, with a view to using our own staff to develop consistently brilliant teaching across the school. Time slots will be put aside throughout the year for colleagues to meet in pairs to have a co-coaching conversation.

Photo credit: cambodia4kidsorg

The 7 Monkeys is a way of enabling students to learn a concept, process or idea independently with minimal teacher input. Each ‘monkey’ is a different activity that the students undertake to support their learning. The end point is students answering a question with a piece of extended writing.

Why monkeys? Nobody knew – the students seemed to like it though!

This is how the process works.

Thursday, 14 February 2013 13:22

Closing the gap with peer marking

Came across a great example of how peer marking can be effortlessly, but effectively used to close the learning gap today – courtesy of our Head of Geography, David Brading (@davidbrading).

It went like this:

Step 1 – Peer marking based on clear success criteria

Students were set a writing task – ‘Describe in detail how humans use fold mountains’.  They were then given clear instructions on how to peer mark the work:

Circle the work when you see any of these. Put a number in the margin to reference.

1- Name of area- countries

2- Point- eg farming, tourism

3- fact of figure

4- Because

5- this means.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012 12:29

Plan on a Page

If you are involved in education and use twitter you can’t not have seen Ross McGill’s excellent 5 Minute Lesson Plan.  A great resource that supports teachers with planning effective lessons, in 5 minutes or less.

This inspired us to produce a ‘Plan on a Page’, based on the great principles of the 5 minute plan:

  • Saving precious teacher time
  • Supporting teachers to plan for effective learning
  • Satisfying the criteria for good/outstanding teaching and learning

At the moment we are trialling it in school, but it looks like this:

Wednesday, 11 July 2012 11:53

Planning enquiry based learning

Stage 1

Students need to be motivated to learn by engaging their interest and setting an appropriate challenge. Use images, video clips, pieces of writing etc etc to hook them in to the learning. Whet their appetites by explaining how they will present their findings in a novel and interesting way.

Stage 2

Students should then collect the information before they start to process it. The ideal here is to spend less time gathering information and more time thinking and processing it. To this end, it is sometimes worth giving them the information sources to sort, highlight, condense etc.

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