Meaningful, manageable and motivational homework

For many years I have trialled many different approaches to homework to create meaningful opportunities outside of the classroom. In many cases, it involved students completing an unfinished task, or applying their knowledge to exam-style questions. It soon became a cycle of chasing students for incomplete homework and an unmanageable workload for marking, and more importantly, providing feedback. Something had to change! This change was a shift in the focus of our homework to students condensing and reflecting on the learning from the week. In my recent Twitter poll, this seems to be how others are approaching homework too, so here is the reasons how and why we have made homework meaningful, manageable and motivational.

The move towards our focus of condense and reflection puts the ownership on students. As a department, we have devoted CPD time to using our homework to embed Roseshine’s Principles of Instruction and shared the importance of retrieval and spaced practice on improving students’ long term memory. This involved sharing the research with students and spending time showing them how to condense and reflect, modelling excellence.

So, how does it look on a weekly basis? At Key Stage 3, all students work on condensing and reflecting through ‘Geog your memory’ sheets, originally created by @jennnnnx, and creating flash cards on a fortnightly cycle.

At Key Stage 4, students create revision clocks that enable them to deliberately practice retrieval practice on a weekly basis.

At Key Stage 5, students work on creating knowledge sketches that allow them to consider the synoptic elements of geography.

Across all three Key Stages, students are immersed in the process of knowledge recall and creating memorable notes that they can use for retrieval. For teachers, the role is to check them for factual accuracy and completion during the week. This has significantly reduced our workload and put the ownership on students.

Feedback: Holding The Grade

In my very first blog I talked about a new assessment approach we have introduced in our department – CRAFT (Condense, Reflect, Assess, Feedback and Target-driven improvement). There have been several debates on Twitter in recent weeks about giving students marks or grades when providing feedback. In our department, we provide no marks or grades for any feedback in note books, interim-formative assessments (IFAs) or summative diagnostic assessments (SDAs). Instead, students are provided with positive and specific targets that focus on closing their knowledge gap. After all, the aim of feedback is to provide students with insight that helps to improve their performance.


When students first received their IFAs and SDAs they inevitably wanted to know how many marks they had achieved out of 40 and what grade this equated to. You could see their disappointment/ frustration when I told them that the focus was on ‘what they had done well’ and ‘how could their work be improved’. However, by embedding the strategy of ‘holding the grade’ and providing positive and specific targets, students have responded well and are taking ownership of making more meaningful improvements. In the past, when providing students with a mark or grade, this ends up being the focal point and the actual suggestions for improvement end up being white noise.

We have focused on four key principles to provide effective feedback to students:

1) Affirming what they did well

2) Correcting and directing

3) Pointing out the process

4) Coaching students to independently make improvements.

Assessment Feedback

After each of our IFAs and SDAs, students are provided with DIRT time (Dedicated Improvement Reflection Time) to allow them to make bespoke improvements that will help to close the knowledge gap. In a recent article from SecEd on effective feedback practices, John Dabell outlines the importance of giving students time: ‘if we don’t give students the time to reflect on their feedback then they can’t respond effectively and constructively and implement our suggestions’. Our IFAs are out of 20 marks and SDAs are out of 40 marks, therefore in the following lesson we give students 30 minutes for IFAs and 50 minutes for SDAs to reflect and make improvements. As John Dabell explains, students can’t close the knowledge gap if we don’t give them the time and space to breathe. In these DIRT learning episodes, students are conducting focused editing using the specific targets set by the teacher, therefore we insist on silence. To reduce the amount of written feedback teachers are giving students following these assessments, we have used checklists with specific improvement tasks aligned to the questions set. This new way of assessing students is still in its infancy, but we are seeing improvements in student outcomes (teachers are internally recording marks out of 20 and 40), with students requiring less time to work on their focused editing.

Live feedback

In lessons, we have been using several strategies to provide live feedback to students. One of these strategies has been the use of ‘pink pen feedback’ where all staff are armed with a pink pen as they monitor the learning. Then at appropriate times using post-it notes, questioning and wristbands to ‘correct and direct’ any misconceptions. This has resulted in a reduction in our marking, with all marking of class note books completed in lessons, whilst IFAs and SDAs are marked outside of lessons.

Ultimately, feedback should be more work for students than teachers and ensure it provides opportunities to feed forward learning.

Modelling – writing like a geographer

In my recent blog on differentiation, I spoke about modelling as a key strategy for guiding and supporting students to reach the ‘brilliant outcome’. In Roseshine’s ‘Principles of Instruction’, evidence-based research has demonstrated that when teachers provide students with models and worked examples, it has effectively supported them in solving problems faster. So, why would teachers not model excellence?

In our department, we have used CPD time to ensure all teachers have a clear understanding of what excellence looks like in geography – a key component to establish – before modelling can be embedded into our everyday teaching practice. This has led to a writing structure known as PDL: Point, Develop, Link, which allows all students to apply their understanding to exam-style questions to maximise their marks:

  • Make a point – for example: One-way global inequality can be reduced is through remittances.
  • Develop the point – for example: This is when migrants send money back to family living in their country of origin.
  • Link your point back to the question – for example: This reduces global inequality because the family members can use this money to pay for key living essentials.

We have this structure resonating throughout the learning materials we provide, as well as on the desks:

Write like a geographer

Alongside teachers knowing what excellence looks like, the use of modelling in the classroom requires teachers firstly to establish a conducive learning environment thereby ensuring strategies such as live modelling can be used. Ben Newmark’s ‘10 principles for great explicit teaching’ provides the foundations for setting up a learning environment that allows modelling strategies to flourish. One of the strategies Newmark talks about is the need for teachers to teach students to listen; you need all 24 (sometimes less, sometimes more!) pairs of eyes focused on your every move as you demonstrate excellence. This is now my second academic year as Head of Department at my new school, and we have trained students to ‘actively listen’ by having nothing in their hands when we are talking. Initially, this took time to embed and required endless persistence and patience. However, now I can see the benefits, with fewer students saying, “Sir, what do we need to do?” at the end of the demonstration. In a recent lesson with Year 7, the department used visualisers to demonstrate how to draw river cross-section profiles – an inherently difficult skill for GCSE students. Through the insistence for listening during the demonstration, students set about plotting their own profiles with greater success.

The effectiveness of modelling as outlined by Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby in ‘Make Every Lesson Count’ requires the use of strong questioning, timely feedback and understanding of what excellence looks like to enable students to develop independence:

Photo 17-03-2018, 16 37 52

In many of our lessons we have developed the following modelling strategies to guide students towards independence:

  • Live modelling using the classroom whiteboard with students coming up to the board to indicate where the Point, Develop and Link sentences are within the answer, as well as finishing off sentences where the Point and Develop sentences are already done;
  • Completed answers (Blue Peter style) with students highlighting where the PDL sentences are and then using this model to support the writing of their own answer;
  • A poor example for students to spot the mistakes and make the necessary improvements to make it the ‘perfect answer’;
  • A gallery of excellence in each classroom to show what excellence looks like for the different style of exam questions;
  • ‘Capturing excellence’ during the lesson by spotting student answers and displaying them on the visualiser to showcase to the rest of the class.


Over the past few months I have seen many teachers tweeting about the concept of differentiation and the expectations placed on them to demonstrate they are differentiating for their students. One comment has stuck with me: “A HAP book should look different to that of a MAP or LAP book”. This whole idea concerns me when we have moved to non-tiered, undifferentiated GCSEs for the large proportion of the curriculum, since September 2016.

Geoff Petty defines differentiation as follows: ‘the process by which differences between learners are accommodated so that all students in a group have the best possible chance of learning’.

So, it is a process by which teachers ‘accommodate’ different types of learners to ensure they can ALL access the learning. Having read the excellent Make Every Lesson Count by Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby, I agree that differentiation isn’t about the historical notion of providing students with different worksheets, but about providing suitable challenge, and being responsive to support them in achieving the learning goals. In the past, many low ability students have fallen in to the ‘comfort zone’ where there has been low challenge and a self-fulfilling prophecy of underachievement. I believe if teachers set high challenge and allow students to enter the ‘struggle zone’, then with appropriate support, we see students thrive.

If we take one element of a GCSE specification relating to river landscapes:

How river landscapes contrast between the upper courses, mid courses and lower courses of rivers and why channel shape (width, depth), valley profile, gradient, discharge, velocity and sediment size and shape change along the course of a named UK river.

This key idea from the specification is ‘undifferentiated’; it is essential that ALL students studying geography at GCSE can understand the reasons why river landscapes contrast between their upper, middle and lower courses. It is therefore the role of the teacher to set up the learning for ALL students to reach this outcome but provide scaffolding and be responsive for those students that might require more support to do so. The illustration from Make Every Lesson Count demonstrates this:

File 11-03-2018, 17 49 25


This is how we have approached differentiation in our department. Firstly, we don’t have graded success criteria (using the terms ALL, MOST, SOME; bronze, silver, gold; or any other 3-tiered system of outcomes). Instead we have just one outstanding outcome, using the phrase, ‘an outstanding geographer will be able to…’ to set the bar high and challenge all students right from the outset. This means that our expectations of the students are high, and we inspire all to work towards the highest learning goal.





To provide appropriate support for students when they are working on the knowledge quiz, we have a structured sheet. Overtime, this scaffolded support is reduced to 4 supported questions, then 3, until the student no longer needs the additional support. This has meant the lower ability students don’t hit the ‘panic zone’ at the start of the lesson.



We then have several strategies that we use, as and when appropriate, depending on the subject content and the students, which includes:

  • Structure strips
  • Modelling
  • Questioning
  • Highlighting
  • Question stems
  • Writing frames

The effective use of these strategies relies on the expertise of the teacher, which has been a departmental focus to ensure all teachers know what excellence looks like in geography.


The CRAFT of assessmenti

The CRAFT of assessment

The new 9-1 GCSEs have created a challenge for teachers to develop students’ ability to think deeper and recall a wide range of concepts and processes at the end of their two- or three-year course. Regardless of their starting point, the ability for all students to retain and recall knowledge effectively across their GCSE consistently is something that we as a department have developed.

This has led to the evolving of an approach called the CRAFT of assessment, which involves teachers creating learning opportunities for students to do the following:

C – Condense

R – Review

A – Assess

F – Feed-forward

T – Target-driven improvement

The CR – Condense and Review

Condensing is all about the students taking ownership for their classroom notes, using their own preferred method of breaking down the concepts and processes into smaller chunks for revising. For example, in our department over the last few months, students have been creating revision clocks, flash cards and mind maps. The emphasis is on the student doing the condensing as homework and the teacher checking for completion and factual accuracy.

The role of teachers has been to introduce a 5-question knowledge quiz at the start of every lesson to continually check retention of knowledge across different topics.

The A – Assess

Our new IFA (Interim Formative Assessments) have been written to test students’ ability to apply their understanding of the content every 2/3 weeks as demonstrated by the SOW planning schedule below. The new IFAs mirror the type of questions that students would expect to receive in their GCSE examination and typically last 20 minutes. These diagnostic tests allow teachers to use assessment for learning to provide students with feedback on their progress without the use of grades, percentages or total marks. This cycle of IFAs repeats every 2/3 weeks, with each one testing across the topics taught to date.

At the end of the 8/10 weeks, students then sit a summative assessment based on all learning from the previous weeks, allowing teachers to provide students with detailed feedback on their progress, along with a grade.



The FT – Feed-forward and target-driven improvement

Once students have completed their IFAs and received feedback from their teacher, there is specific learning time set aside for feed-forward tasks. These tasks are specific to an aspect of the topic students may have struggled with, enabling target-driven improvement.