The beauty of annotating

Joe Kirby


Dewdrops on a dragonfly


Like dewdrops on a dragonfly, annotations are microscopic, fragile and beautiful. I’ve come to believe that they’re the most important secret for teaching literature; a hidden treasure trove, waiting to be discovered. Here’s what I think is precious about them:

  1. Annotations are the best way for pupils to analyse texts in detail
  2. Annotations are an instant way for teachers to see pupils’ thinking
  3. Annotations allow pupils to return to poems and remember ideas for comparisons

Close analysis 

When pupils are taught explicitly how to annotate, they can go much deeper into texts, beyond surface level ideas. For instance, here are three pupils’ annotations of Rudyard Kipling’s poem If:




 You can see how much of an advantage small, neat handwriting is! The detailed precision that these Year 8 pupils can achieve through annotating and colour-coding themes, rhyme scheme and poetic devices is very powerful…

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Contemporary educational ideas all my staff should know about

A brilliant compendium of cutting-edge ideas for improving Teaching and Learning!



Key ideas from different sources. Key ideas from different sources.

As I look ahead to starting my new job at Highbury Grove,  I’m thinking about all the conversations we are going to have about learning.  To a large degree I want my teachers to be as up-to-date as possible within their own subject domains. They should know the latest OfSTED position ( eg with Moving English Forward or Mathematics: made to measure ) and be up to speed with exam specifications and assessment requirements.  Subject knowledge and subject-specific pedagogical knowledge are going to be key drivers of everything we do.

However, in order to fuel the collaborative effort of reaching the ambitious goals we have for the school, we’ll need to establish a shared conceptual language for talking about teaching across the school as well as within departments. Inevitably, different teachers will have engaged to different degrees with certain ideas depending on the books…

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Hattie on The Educators – Know Thy Impact!

...but is it on the test?

On 20th August John Hattie appeared on BBC Radio 4’s The Educators (available on iplayer radio). Here is what I heard:

1. Teacher Expertise is the most important factor: ‘…how they think, what they do every day’… ‘I want to make every teacher as good as our best.’

2. Quality of Teaching is hard to see – parents choose schools on things they can see (these are poor proxies) – e.g. class size, better friendship groups (reason for going private?), extra curricular, uniform, behaviour. They can’t see the teaching.

3. Class Size has a very small effect …teachers don’t change how they teach when they go from a class size of 30 to 15.

4. Type of school is a distraction… forget academies, private, state, free schools, charter schools, TEACHING IS WHAT MATTERS!!

5. ‘Should individual teachers have autonomy?’ is the real debate……

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GCSE Outcomes and Transition Matrices: A data tool every teacher can use.


As most people recognise, when evaluating the degree of success in a set of GCSE outcomes we need some sense of the baseline before we start making like-for-like comparisons.   At the risk of stating the obvious, how well we’ve done all depends on what our results look like relative to the prior attainment of the students. This applies to comparing whole schools, year-on-year comparisons for one school, subjects within schools and teaching groups – especially if they are set by ability.

Given how long various data tools have existed and how commonly they are used, it still surprises me when school leaders, subject leaders and teachers refer to raw outcomes but don’t automatically engage with a banded analysis.   Using national transition matrices is a really good way to give a nuanced, stratified analysis of outcomes compared to national trends in all subjects – and I’m sure many of…

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Weekly Reflection: Why do we treat behaviour differently from learning?

Teaching the Teacher

This week a bit of my time and concentration has been focused on unwise decisions made by my students. I’ve run the full gamut of emotions; shock, anger, denial and sadness all the time trying to keep my cool.

It’s funny the way we view behaviour.

If a kid makes a mistake when they are reading, we don’t immediately stop them from coming to reading group. We model, guide and support the child until they can get over the hurdle by themselves.

A mistake is a learning opportunity.

Yet when it comes to behaviour, we are still very much in a fixed mindset. That child is no good, comes from a poor family.  Sometimes children’s behaviour is seen as being a reflection on their teacher. We go into damage control mode, not wanting to be judged.

We just want to get on with our lessons rather spend time sorting out yet…

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Ten tips for new teachers, three for new history teachers, and two targets for me

Some sage advice for all teachers here really, not justb the historians…

Improving Teaching

If you want my advice – which you probably don’t, either because you’re a first year teacher who thinks you know it all, or because you’re a second year teacher who knows you do, or because you’re a third or fourth year teacher who knows that although you don’t know it all, neither do – here it is anyway…

The Reluctant Disciplinarian, Gary Rubinstein

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.”

The Sunscreen Song, (or, rather, Mary Schmich)

I received too much advice at my Teach First Summer Institute: much of it appeared contradictory, all of it was rooted in the giver’s context.  For some years therefore…

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Back To School 2014…10 Amazing 21st Century Lessons From An Almost Analog Native

21 st Century Educational Technology and Learning


Thanks for joining me as I share my back-to-school post. While I do not have my usual listing of resource links… I believe I have something that will make you smile and remind you why you are an educator. I hope you enjoy this story and its ten timeless educational lessons. This post is a reminder that teaching truly is an amazing art. Let’s all keep up the wonderful painting and please pass these lessons on to others.  Please take a moment to subscribe by email or RSS and also give me a follow on Twitter at mjgormans.  I promise you will find some great information coming your way through out the school year …So Sign Up Now and please take a moment to share and retweet this article. Your effort is appreciated… Please enjoy! – Mike

Booking Info – Before reading the article please take some time to think about…

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Teaching History with 100 Objects

British Museum blog

Richard Woff, Head of Project, British Museum

I just attended the press launch in the Museum of Teaching History with 100 Objects, a series of online resources for teachers supported by the Department for Education. Each resource is based on a museum object which connects to the key topics of the new history curriculum for England and to wider themes for teachers across the UK and the world. The objects are drawn from the collections of the British Museum and a network of partners around Britain.

The website uses object-based learning to enable a wide understanding of British and world history to support teaching for Key Stages 1, 2 and 3. Resources feature background information, activity ideas, images to download and links to videos and other media. The project takes inspiration from our collaboration with the BBC, A History of the World in 100 Objects, but includes a…

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Just how easy is ‘high expectations for all’?

A brilliant blog on high expectations and the ‘Pygmalion effect’. A great companion piece to our thinking on developing the growth mindset in all Paddington students!

Reflecting English

go further(1)

Image: @jasonramasami

As the new school year springs – or lumbers! – into life, I have been thinking about the beliefs I have about my students. Like all dedicated teachers, I would vehemently argue that I have the highest expectations for each and every student I teach. How dare you suggest otherwise!

But do I really? And more to the point: is it possible for any teacher to have genuinely high expectations of every student?

Psychologist Daniel Kahneman, in Thinking Fast and Slow, shares the following experiment. Participants were given this question:

An individual has been described by a neighbour as follows: “Steve is very shy and withdrawn, invariably helpful but with little interest in people or in the world of reality. A meek and tidy soul, he has a need for order and structure, and a passion for detail.” Is Steve more likely to be a librarian or a…

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