Most of us teach material that will be assessed in an examination of some form or another, but upcoming changes to GCSEs mean that for all of us the focus on teaching exam technique will become more and more important.

One of the major issues that I’ve found to be holding learners back from excelling at exams is the problem with retention of information after their in-class tests: whilst they may revise and practice for the actual test, their effort in keeping that knowledge fresh or making use of the exam result after it has happened is often disappointing.

The research into how we make memories indicates that it is the process of repeating the learning that causes information to be stored in long term memory, and the practical application of this that feeds those skills into working memory. What we need to be doing then is making the grade scored for each assessment less important that what we learned about the students’ recall and use of those facts to inform both the teaching and the revision strategies.

The first thing to tackle is the initial response of students to your exam marking: for most students the only thing that really matters is seeing that grade. They instantly decide if they’re happy with it or not then completely forget about the exam content, marking it up as a success or failure and moving on. In both cases the act of reducing all that learning down to a simple binary state can mean that students simply repeat the exact process of revision for future assessments without making changes.

One method of doing this is an exam reflection activity. Still go through the questions, still hand out grades, but force the students to actually reflect on what they’ve achieved. One strategy for this is Question Level Analysis: traditionally this involves keeping a record of every mark on every question for every student and using it to inform your teaching of which subject to cover again. This tool is too detailed to be much use with students directly, what works a little better is to group the results of the questions into topics and present percentage grades for each of the topics.

Showing this data directly to the student really allows them to get an understanding for which areas of learning they succeeded in and which areas that they need to improve.

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 09.10.35

This is reasonably straightforward to set up in a spreadsheet, demonstrating a simple percentage for each of the areas of learning that the exam covered. It simply allows an overview that works particularly well when used with the following sheet.

Once each exam has been sat, the results returned and you’ve gone through the questions with your group; then going through something like the sheet above will force the students to engage with that so-difficult reflection on how the exam actually went. Please don’t feel that you have to replicate the questions on this sheet by they’re a reasonable attempt (and a fourth iteration) to get students to think about how they could do better from a variety of places.

Screen Shot 2016-03-21 at 09.11.10

Firstly, the WWW and EBI are swapped for What Went Well? And What Went Badly? – the language here is specifically chosen to have more emotional resonance with the student so that they are more likely to value the list of problems. All of this can be informed from the QLA that you have performed and allows the students to not only identify which sections they performed poorly on, but using the remainder of the questions on the page it allows them to identify why and how they can improve.

What we’re basically doing is holding the students’ hands as they move themselves through a process of self evaluation and planning the next stage of their learning.

We’re asking questions about the time they need to use, what techniques they could try, even who amongst their friends and family could help them and how – all of these are techniques that can have impact and are often not used by the weakest students.

One of the most important things at this stage is to set a date for another test on the same topics, so that students can work to a deadline with the improvements they claim to want to make. When the next test happens you can perform the same QLA and reflection activity but the important thing on the second run is to compare this achievement to their previous attempt and make the students accountable for the changes they wanted to make. Celebrate success as much as possible.

By walking the student through the model for self evaluation, self reflection and planning for improvement then students are more likely to start to internalise this process and see the benefits of it. In looking at comparison data between two groups of similar ability over two years, class A that used the traditional methods and class B who used QLA and Reflection you can see that class B had more consistent and refined improvements in their unit-to-unit scores, compared to class B who were more variable and actually seemed to get worse in their exam technique for the first three topics.

This leads me to believe that the techniques of reflection and QLA do work, they’re not quite the be-all and end-all but they do have a noticeable impact on the long term and lead to more consistent results.

This is just the data from two groups though, why not give this a try yourself and report back your findings?

1. There is a time and effort overhead to starting anything new

So work with it. Build it into your planning and do not use the new ‘thing’ just once. It takes time for people to learn to use any new technology, so make sure that you have the time to deal with that before you expect return on your time investment.

2. Make sure that your learning content is prioritised over any cool stuff they want to do with the tech

So their brand new phone will record in 4K resolution that can only be seen by the very richest people in the world with the best TV sets. Who cares? Students who are not engaging with the learning objective as much as they could be often go off into flights of tech fancy, doing weird and wonderful things with it which look impressive, but ask yourself this – is the green screen effect they’re using really relevant to the learning you want them to achieve?

3. Get over yourself

Make peace with the fact that no matter how much of an expert in your discipline or subject, you will never be able to know everything there is to know about all the tech in the world. Even as a Computing teacher I am happy to announce that whilst I don’t know the specifics of how to use every piece of software; I can make some logical estimates of what different functions will do.

If you set the expectation that you’re all learning something cool together and that you’ll use your advanced problem solving skills to help your students out, then no one will be struggling.

4. Replace yourself

People that try out digital learning for the first time feel the pressure of being the sage on the stage more so than any other type of teacher. You have to be teacher, facilitator and tech support for your entire classroom. With this in mind why on earth are you still starting off with your didactic ten-minute scene setting exercise? Get it recorded, get it up on YouTube so that those elements of your lessons can be accessed when the students need them.

If you aim to replace yourself with technology then it frees you up to intervene and help the students that need it, when they need it most.

5. Set expectations

Especially in regards to a hand in date, digital content never quite feels ‘finished’ in the same way that three sides of A4 in your handwriting does, because we can version and edit as much as we want. Make sure students know that there’s a hard hand in date and that they have to achieve it.

6. Don’t fall for it

Don’t take any sob stories about lost memory sticks, Dogs eating hard drives or tablets computers being mistaken for actual tablets. These excuses tend to be easy to roll out, so don’t accept them. Do be fair and patient though, use the exact same expectations and chances you would with any normal piece of work.

7. Don’t use something because it is cool, use it because it is relevant

If you’re trying out a piece of software because it looks cool then chances are that the learning in the lesson becomes less about your topic and more about the software itself. That’s not to say that students don’t appreciate a little of the ‘shiny’ to get them over the barrier of using something new, but don’t rely on it as the catalyst of a fun lesson. A good teacher, with well-developed content can be augmented by shiny new tech. Shiny new tech cannot make up for poor resources, lax planning or a dud lesson.

8. Be positive about it

Okay, so a computer has died and you’ve got three students sharing a laptop. Don’t be negative about it. In the same way that’d you hate the game and not the player, you have to hate the fact things break and not the broken thing. Never whinge or moan about poor resources in front of the students because they will see your annoyance with the tech as an excuse to blame an inability to work on the rubbish tech.

9. Use the tool more than once

Whatever you do, do it more than once. If you’re going o al the fuss of teaching something new and exciting rather than relying on traditional educational resources, then at least get some longevity and return out of it. Repeat the use of the tech as much as you can and your students will impress you by showing you the variety of exciting and interesting ends they can get to with the means, if they only have time to learn how.

10. Encourage creative use of the tech

Do not reward the student who has stuck a bit of word art on a page and found some daft pictures to go on it. Reward the creative, innovative and fluent use of the tech. In the same way that you’re unmoved by a student who does the bare minimum of writing for homework, yet laud praise on the student who writes their own sonnet using a quill and ink, do not pour rewards for doing the bare minimum. If you encourage going above-and-beyond then they are more likely to do it again as they know you appreciate quality work.

I’m sure that some of you remember my post from last year: Print on demand for better Learning, where I explained the thinking behind my efforts to produce custom exercise books for my post-16 Computing students. Well, after a year of use and some very interesting impacts on teaching and learning we decided that it would be worth rolling a tweaked version of this out to the rest of our groups.

As such I have created a custom exercise book that both allows students to take notes in the Cornell style, as well as summarise and mark the notes; all this and target setting, planning, recording and analysis assessment have been incorporated into the exercise book. In short what we’ve got here is a generic, any-subject, any-level exercise book that focuses students and improves teaching and learning.

Please feel free to buy a copy from amazon (only £3.99) or download the PDF versions of all the files to construct your own, remembering that you must credit this site if you are using any of my materials, and then only non-commercially. Anyway, on with the blog post.

Lesson Learned from Version 1

There were a number of things we learned as a result of last year’s trial of the custom exercise books:

  1. Students needed more pages and flexibility for keeping notes
  2. Students needed simpler summaries of assessments
  3. Students needed more structure to planning and evidencing revision
  4. The self reflection and analysis contained too many similar questions
  5. A specific book per unit of work was a little too much faff
  6. We needed room to add marking comments
  7. Students needed a checklist of some kind before hand in
  8. Quality of the books needed to improve whilst cost needed to be reduced
  9. Use fewer explanatory or pre-printed pages as students just didn’t read them
  10. It needed to include the deeper questioning grid to allow use each and every lesson


This year rather than do all that work in Photoshop, illustrator and Word (as I had done last year) I decided to just bite the bullet and use InDesign, I’d been teaching myself how to use it in order to write my tl;dr books so felt pretty adept at this. Using InDesign meant that much of my hard work from last year seemed a bit pointless and crazy as industry standard software is just so much more refined at doing this layout malarky.

I started with going for the biggest size that was still affordable to have printed, selecting the US Paper size which allows more room for content. Working on the cover first and following the style of before, but with more generic content: such as the blank box for lesson, name, etc. on the cover. I then added the deeper questioning grid to the back, reasoning that this on a glossy cardboard surface would allow us to use whiteboard markers on them when using the grids.

ExerciseBookGenericCover  deeperQuestioning Download the PDF

The next step was the front page, because this would be an odd page on its own I decided to use it to hold targets and summaries of assessments. This made the design choices easier and cheaper as I wasn’t wasting resources including an enormous copyright page, the page here holds potential summaries for 8 units which is more than we usually cover in one particular unit of work but allows it to be used by many different groups.

 Download the PDF

The next stage was to get into the nitty-gritty of what I wanted the note pages to look like, in using a larger size this meant that I could keep all the aspects of the previous notes pages that worked so successfully: the lines pages, the Cornell sidebars, the summary areas, date and title sections. In going that extra mile to improve this the new size actually gives us more written space than before. I added a RAG rating to each page for difficulty means that students can, at a glance, see which pages need revising more than others. The top also contains a ‘type of learning’ box so we can identify classwork, project work and homework for work scrutiny purposes. Finally there’s an area to identify if this is self, peer or teacher assessment to engage students with assessment in different ways.

At the bottom of the page we now have a finished-page checklist, so students can check they’ve done everything before they hand in a book for marking, a key for our Literacy and numeracy marking policy and areas for What-Went-Wells, Even-Better-Ifs and a response from the student. Making these a double page spread means that the space can be used more effectively.

NotePages NotePages2 Download the PDF

Rather than doing what I did last year, and trying to estimate how many pages students need per topic, I made it more generic and ‘classic exercise book’ style by sticking in 100 pages worth of this layout, plenty for any student to write notes on most subjects.

The next step was to produce the Revision planning, logging and assessment reflection pages. Again, 8 of these were added at the back in order to ensure that students could go through a complete revision exercise to practice this skill and evidence what they have done. The revision plan was split into a more specific table layout that asks the students to describe the type of revision methodology being used from our standard taxonomy, this was joined by a more generic week planner so students can demonstrate thought as to when and what they’ll revise.

Of course, once they’ve planned revision they’ll presumably go and do it. To check this a page of revision logging is presented, in a new more specific table format that once again uses the revision taxonomy to push the students to revise in an effective manner. At the end we ask the student to summarise and WWW, EBI the actual revision they’ve done so that we can review it after the exam.

Assessment reflection follows a very similar pattern to before, with fewer, more differentiated leading questions and opportunities to force students to reflect upon their achievement and produce a plan of action. Student would then be asked to fill out the overview summary at the start of the book.

AssessmentPrepLogReview AssessmentPrepLogReview2 AssessmentPrepLogReview3 Download PDF

So, one more page to go. Last year the calendar was extremely useful, but if this is to be as generic as possible and be less work to create next year then I can’t have year specific pages. In thinking this through I realised that what students really want is to be able to write down key dates rather than having an actual calendar, thus I went for a much more generic, box based design so that they can be reused year-to-year.

KeydateCalendar Download PDF


If you’ve read my previous article then you’ll know that I’ve previously used to print this stuff, which is great because they allow you to create projects that don’t necessarily have to be for sale everywhere and meet a load of guidelines. However, the quality of their paper is not quite as nice as that from amazon’s createspace and me being a bit of a stationery snob decided that it would be nice to have better paper for the student’s notes. This has benefits and drawbacks: the benefits being that the cost was reduced slightly, now coming in at £2.99 rather than over £3 as before, but because createspace is designed for publicly available books sold through Amazon you need to adhere to a number of guidelines in producing the document. This is the reason the phrase ‘Exercise Book’ exists on the cover as the title of the book being on the cover is a requirement of the createspace process.

However, after all that and getting the samples ordered I ended up with a beautiful exercise book that does all I wanted it to do, then we got the full order in.

IMG_3105.JPG IMG_3106.JPG IMG_3107.JPG IMG_3109.JPG IMG_3110.JPG

Is it worth it?

Well, I’d say so. The difference we saw in the quality of both notes and revision last year was astonishing; and that was with a first attempt at streamlining the process of students making notes and reflecting on assessments.

It’s got to be better than buying 50 books of lined paper and expecting the students to organise themselves. It’s got to be better than expecting students to make their own plans with no guidance. It’s got to be better than giving papers back and asking them to think about what they needed to do better.

Yes, it’s much more expensive than bog standard exercise books but the beauty of this is that with a small investment of time and a little more money you can have books that are personal and specific to the way you teach, mark and reflect.

If the time investment’s too much for you then please just buy a few copies of mine and give that a go – at £3.99 a go it’s probably not there for the hundreds of people in your KS3 classes but it’s certainly affordable for KS4/KS5. Give it a go!

If you make your own let me know how you got on, I’d love to publish other examples here.

At #TMCotham last night I delivered a very well received 5-minute presentation, all about the best investment I ever made into the teaching and learning in my department. So what was it that I spent that fateful £30 on that really changed things for us?

Amazon link to buy the glasses

What Was I Looking For?

It was about a year ago and I was looking to stock up on a few more digital cameras, because whilst it is fine and groovy to have students use their own devices to record video on; it does also flag up a few embarrassing situations when you’re trying to get that video off their device and the student’s entire photo collection is visible for a few seconds. To get around that I’ve always kept a cache of relatively inexpensive (£100) point-and-shoot cameras around, but these had been breaking and it was time to get more.

The problem is that these are actually quite a large investment of capitation if you want any more than one or two, to get five it would be the best part of £500 and the quality wouldn’t be what the students are expecting.

I’d also been waiting patiently for Google Glass to find its way to the UK. I’ve got vision with this one, imagine a future where teachers are specced out with Google Glass and student face recognition technology: imagine seeing a student in the corridor and Google Glass silently displaying an overlay of the student’s data in your eye line as you talk – the implications would be amazing!

Anyway, whilst searching Amazon for cameras I suddenly had a bright idea and searched for ‘video recording glasses’.

Amazon link to buy the glasses

I immediately bought one, getting a 16gb TF card to use with it for £35 all in. This rocked. Firstly, it’s a fifth of the price of a generic, half-decent point-and-shoot digital camera, secondly it will allow for POV recording. So they took a bit of time to come but they worked wonders when they arrived. If so then I could get five of these for the price of a single point-and-shoot!

Why Care?



As you can see from this sample recording GIF it works really well for getting a student to record and explain a sample of their work. This example is from a group project where I’ve asked the group leaders to go and interview the members of the group to explain what they’ve achieved, how they met the marking criteria and discussing improvements that they should be making.

That’s amazing because now when I’m marking a group project I really can just sit down with the group leader and review their footage, this gives us more opportunity to review the learning, be honest and reflective and set more exciting targets than we would otherwise. It also serves as an implicit record of the achievement of students in your lesson and we’re certainly going to be showing that to Ofsted!

It also works really nice to watch bits of this footage as a class at the end, seeing clips of a group over the six lesson project go from strength to strength is highly motivational and the students really love having an X-factor style ‘best bits’ montage at the end of a project.

No Screen = No Vanity

Have you ever sent a group of students off with a normal digital camera to record something? They’re gone for an hour and come back with five minutes of poor footage, mainly because they’re busy watching, reviewing and deleting any video that’s not Hollywood standard. They never are Hollywood standard.

That doesn’t matter to us, but to the students it’s horrific and they’ll spend hours reshooting a five minute video because someone laughed, or someone’s hair looks awful or maybe just because they aren’t happy with the way they sound.

This is a distraction to the point of the video recording task, when you use a pair of video recording glasses then students don’t get to see the footage before you do, they can’t delete anything and so what you get is a full stream of consciousness recording. Much better for most purposes.

They also work better to melt away into the background, no one’s standing around unnaturally holding a camera for all to see and act up to, someone’s just wearing slightly naff glasses and students soon forget that they’re being recorded. It’s a completely different experience and because of that I thought it might be useful elsewhere.

Lesson Observations

8odneSo we bought another one. With two at my disposal I snuck them into lesson observations, and they worked a treat. Ever tried to record a lesson observation? The students act even stranger than if there’s just a member of senior leadership in the room! Not so with our video recording glasses, and better than that you get a pupil’s eye view of the lesson so you can really see what they get up to whilst you’re running around being inspiring.

One of the things that works for us is using Final Cut Pro X on the Macs to edit these two videos into one so that you can give different pairs of the glasses to different ability students. It’s very difficult to argue against the need for differentiation by task when you see for yourself the different abilities and actions of two very different learners.

Where it works well is for observations of long lesson in departments, the batteries last about an hour and a half, good enough for most lessons. We take the footage, edit it like in the gif above and simply all sit down together and watch it back: fast forwarding, pausing and rewinding as we see fit. The important thing is the conversation, it turns a lesson observation into a real-time coaching event and you can have some fantastically productive conversations to improve teaching and learning without struggling to remember what was going on.


Video recording glasses are brilliant, because:

  • It’s a cheaper way of getting video recording into your classroom
  • The only way to watch the video is with a USB cable into your computer, so no one can delete or review the footage until you say so
  • It allows students to naturally record work and progress
  • They are much more subtle than traditional cameras and so allow observations and pupil work recording with more natural behaviour
  • Footage is high definition with great audio so we can watch it back in our teams and have useful coaching style conversations about the teaching and learning happening
  • It implicitly records pupil progress

I’d really recommend giving it a go!

I’ve recently been the grateful recipient of a Jooby Gorillapod. No, it’s better than the name suggests – it’s a really, really useful tripod for the iPhone. But, more than this, the unique way it’s designed means that you can pretty much attach or mount the iPhone anywhere!

So what have I been using it for? Aside from my ongoing quest to create Charlie-Brooker-esque theory videos for ICT and Computing (still a quest unfortunately, can’t get the sound right!); I’ve found this a real turning point in my use of video in the classroom.

It sounds silly, but having the ability to stick my iPhone anywhere and leave it recording is having myriad benefits to my own pedagogy as well as Student achievement. This has happened, quite naturally, from my adoption of setting up the Gorillpod and letting it record – just getting used to having it running in the classroom without putting on a show for it.

Step two was forcing myself to actually go back and review those recordings. Yes, in some respect watching a lesson back that you have just taught is a little like living in Groundhog day – but you get to see yourself as a teacher practising your craft – just as the students would see you. From there you’ll already be acutely aware of the flaws and limitations in your delivery; are you going too fast? Do you have any annoying habits? Are you missing behaviour events right in front of your nose?

Step 3 was in brining it into the student realm and using it to record their responses to questioning, peer reviews and discussions. After the initial novelty wears off there’s a strong motivating factor in having a recording of their responses for future reference. Students seem to take the exercises more seriously and having the footage to refers back to is golden.

Referring back can take a number of forms: You could use it as reference material, you could splice together peer reviews from different parts of a project to allow students to better visualise their progress; and you could use it as a whole class activity to dissect and critique learning styles.

Pushing metacognition (understanding your own thinking) as an important skill, Students can take what they have previously said and work on strategies for improvement. Peers will be much nicer in reviewing students responses than a student will be to themselves!

The fantastic thing about all of this is that after building up a bank of recordings, we can measure the improvement of students and genuinely see if their metalearning skills are improving their performance.

Why use video?

Student engagement, achievement and understanding of their own learning process increases as long as you use the video in lesson and don’t just archive it never to be seen again. Students even watch each others videos cross curricularly, building up a mass of skills that they can improve upon.

Teachers get to see themselves teach. Yes, it might be cringe worthy, but try and push past this and critique yourself – your practice can only benefit from it.

Top Tips

The biggest tip I’ve got for you: don’t make it an enormous effort. If you have to go too far out of your way to make it regular classroom practice then after the initial fun has worn off you’ll stop using it. The key is to pop a camera somewhere, record the lesson, not be too precious about the quality of the footage and then actually go to the trouble of using the video later

Case study

GCSE Computing (Year 10)

The group were due to study the differences between open source and proprietary software, as well as bespoke and off-the-shelf software. Rather than leading a didactic lesson I simply covered the basics and set them a debating challenge.

I got them all excited and enthusiastic with some examples of good and bad debates (from the archives of iOS vs Android and XBox vs PlayStation) and set them in teams to prepare to argue why their topic was best.

I recorded the debates using the iPhone attached to one of the mounted speakers in the corner of the room. The debates were great, passioned, reasoned arguments with some innovative and interesting arguments.

The real positive came in the next lesson where we reviewed the recordings, critiqued the performance, questioned the factual accuracy of the statements made and then, finally, made a series of Cornell notes on the topic covered.

Students not only researched for themselves on this unit, but had an impetus to be experts in their subject (to win the debate) and built on their metacognitive skills in analysing the debate word-for word.


Give it a go! You don’t need any fancy equipment, just something that records video and the impetus to use that recording in the classroom. I’m sure many of you already use video in a similar way; I just found the key to me using it regularly and successfully was in not making it a chore!