The future of homework design? A lesson from history…

This following post is going to be the first of many posts by Wilmslow High School’s teachers, showcasing great practice from across our teaching community.  Thanks to the WHS History department, in particular Helena Clarke and Andy Ingham, for sharing their new Year 9 homework design and their rationale behind it.  If any teachers, both within and outside of Wilmslow High School, have any thoughts, feedback or ideas on how to improve our students’ homework experience we would love you to share them through commenting below.  Over to Helena…

We are currently trialling a new style of homework design for our Year 9 history students. After being passed some action research on providing more choice for homework, Andy Ingham and I formulated the sheet below:

We felt that with a chronological framework to our current scheme of work it would be difficult to have a totally free choice of homework for a half term, so we have set tasks according to the areas being covered. We know from current practice that offering students a choice of tasks often yields pleasing results.

Our current aims are to increase engagement with homework tasks, raise the quality of  homework being submitted and encourage students to stretch and challenge themselves through independent study.

There are a couple of compulsory tasks, but most weeks there are at least three choices of homework with each allocated a number of points.  If the homework is not completed to a personally high level, no points will be awarded.  Vitally, the success criteria for each piece of homwework is shared with the students beforehand.  Students must achieve 25 points by the end of the cycle – this has been calculated so that they cannot always choose the perceived easiest task. Students who significantly exceed the points target will receive some form of reward (to be decided).

Initial reaction from our young historians has been very positive. One of my students has completed all three homeworks on triangular trade and I have been impressed by the thought the students have put into their mini museum exhibits. The interesting observation from the first couple of weeks is that only three students in my class asked for the lowest level task sheet. These students feel that they are taking the easy option, but this is a homework which some students not keen on writing too much normally find quite challenging!

So, initial thoughts are very encouraging.  There will be a follow up post after the October half term to summarise our findings.

A great big thank you to Helena Clarke for being WHS’s first guest blogger on ‘Lookout for Learning’.  Keep your eye out for more action research from across our teaching community.

High Performers: Going ‘beyond outstanding’

Alistair Smith’s ‘High Performers‘ book is a must read for any classroom teacher, middle leader or senior leadership team member looking to take their pedagogy, team or school to ‘beyond outstanding’.  It is firmly based in current practice and is based on Smith’s visits to 20 top performing state schools in the UK.

The book shares cutting edge practice that will make you think, and think hard, about your school’s current environment and culture and it emphasises a great motto:

‘Be curious and question everything’

A personal highlight for me was Chapter 18, ‘Challenging: ask the right questions’.  This chapter starts by suggesting ‘hard questions’ to ask about your school in order to avoid coasting and promote positive progression in your school environment.  Here is the list of questions in full:

  1. Are our lessons actually worth behaving for?
  2. Why does our timetable never change? How many different timetables are worth considering in an academic year?
  3. Why does school start at the same time for everyone?
  4. Should specialists take all exam groups?
  5. Would gap year students be a better option than teachers to help with A level support?
  6. Can we create supergroups by combining sets and giving them high quality lectures with follow up support?
  7. What do we do on a regular basis that does not contribute to improving learning? How soon will we abandon such practices?
  8. What’s wrong with mobiles in lessons? Why not introduce them in Year 10?
  9. Should the department have a Facebook or Twitter account?
  10. Should we all be on Twitter?
  11. Can we put revision tips on YouTube? What about lesson starters?
  12. Do we allow coursework to be submitted that is less than the target grade?
  13. What proportion of PE lessons need a gym? What proportion of science lessons need a lab?
  14. Have we provided parents with a booklet of work  for each subject for when their child says there is no homework?
  15. How useful to a parent is a raw grade or score for effort?
  16. In what ways does a grade for behaviour reflect the students capacity and willingness to learn?
  17. Many schools spend 100 hours per year on registration.  How do we use it?
  18. Why do we do so few lesson observations? 10 observations per year is still only 1% of anyone’s teaching.  Most people can turn it on for an observation but it’s what happens day in day out that counts.
  19. How productive are our assemblies? Why not have learning assemblies or motivational assemblies for different groups in Year 10 and 11?

Smith goes onto conclude that:

‘As a matter of course we should be reflecting on our professional practice.  The opportunity to question some of our most cherished practices needs to be positioned as a positive collegiate activity otherwise it becomes sniper training for cynics’

Wilmslow High School has a copy of this book in our Learning Resource Centre

Matt Bebbington

Twitter: @BebbPEteach

Do our students have a growth or fixed mindset?

Here is a NY magazine article on Carol Dweck’s decades of research on the power of praise and feedback.

Her mantra is ‘praise effort, not intelligence’ which is linked to either a FIXED (natural talent) or GROWTH (if I work hard I can improve) mindset .  Here’s a little visual  to give you more of an understanding:

If this idea strikes a chord with you, then check out her book, Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential or her website here

It is a very simple idea that can have a massive effect on student success in the classroom, on the playing field and life in general!  I think these findings should be shared explicitly with all parents & students at the earliest possible opportunity!

So, let’s make it our resolution to start the 2012 academic year with a growth mindset and transfer this mindset onto our students to help us all improve together.

My first PE SOLO experiments…

After reading David Didau’s The Perfect Ofsted English Lesson and scouring the world wide web for teachers using SOLO, including Tait Coles, David Fawcett and Darren Mead to name but a few, I have finally started experimenting with utilising SOLO taxonomy in my GCSE, BTEC and A level PE classes.  The next few paragraphs will just explain, step by step, the process so far…

Step 1

I introduced the 5 levels of understanding and the language and verbs associated with each through a Tait Coles poster with supporting information from Pam Hook and Julie Mills’s great introductory SOLO book. Essentially, I explained that SOLO provides the students and the teacher with a ‘common language of learning’ so both understand the quality of learning that students are producing.  A great starting point can be found by watching David Didu’s explanation at a TeachMeet Clevedon earlier this year which can be found here:

Step 2

I created 3 rubrics for GCSE PEA Level PE and BTEC PE to give the students a clear picture of the grade equivalents and types of questions at each of the 4 levels (not including prestructural):

1. Unistructural

2. Multistructural

3. Relational

4. Extended Abstract

Step 3

Using post it notes A Level PE…

SOLO post it notes

…and hexagons for BTEC PE…



I asked the students to build up their knowledge (= uni and multistructural) first and then find relationships between these bits of knowledge and apply them in a new concept (= relational and extended abstract).

The A Level PE lesson revolved around the popular recreations of both the lower and upper classes in 18th century Britain and the socio-cultural factors that shaped them along with any common ground between the two class society.  The BTEC PE lesson involved students researching and learning the correct technique for the grip, catch and flat pass in rugby and any links between the three.

To break it down to its simplest components:

  • 1 post it note or hexagon is the equivalent of having 1 relevant idea (= unistructural)
  • 3 or more separate post it notes / hexagons represent many relevant ideas but NOT being able to  link these ideas or knowledge together (= multistructural)
  • Overlapping post it notes / side by side hexagons represent links between different relevant ideas (= relational level of understanding).  You can see lots of these in the pictures above.
  • In the future, for students to reach an extended abstract level I will ask them to find where 3 or more post it notes / hexagons met ( a node if you like  – stolen from David Didau) and create a high quality question to investigate further.  This is the deepest form of learning and extremely hard to reach.  A vital point to remember here is that once a student has generated one extended abstract concept, it is not an end point in their learning.  They must continually revisit, or LOOP back to, the multistructural phase to find new, relevant information and build the quantity of knowledge which will subsequently produce new links (relational) and potentially generate more high quality questions and concepts (= extended abstract).

Step 4

A number of students, using the post it notes and hexagons as guides, articulated their understanding verbally to the class.  Both the hexagons and the post it notes instigated such prolonged explanations that I was slightly shocked at their length and coherence given their minimal prior understanding of both subject matters.  I then allowed all students to take pictures of their work on their phones so they can use this information next lesson when we will be reinforcing their understsanding through various learning opportunities.

Hopefully all this SOLO information makes some sort of sense?  I feel, as a teacher using SOLO taxonomy, I’m only operating at a multistructural stage at the moment but with time, practice and with a lot of stealing from the SOLO community on Twitter I’ll be able to up my game for the students’ sake!

Welcome to every teacher at WHS

Hello, and a big welcome to all members of staff from Wilmslow High School from your teaching and learning co-ordinators, Matt and Jenni.  This blog will act as an open platform to contribute and circulate all the excellent teaching practice that happens on a daily basis in our school.  It will also allow everyone to steal, adapt and experiment with colleagues’ ideas to enhance our teaching and, subsequently, our students’ learning.

So, here’s to the bright future for teaching and learning at Wilmslow High School and the culture of collaboration that we will help build together for the benefit of every member of our school community.


Matt & Jenni