Mrs Humanities

Because I'm married to the job

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Mrs Humanities shares… 5 strategies for developing independent learners

mrs humanities shares

Are we doing too much for our learners? This question has plagued me a lot recently.

I’ve seen hundreds of fabulous resources that take the hard work out of learning for our students. That remove the responsibility from students to teacher. That take the independence from the learning process. That make them dependent on us, their teachers.

Now I’m sure many people will argue with me that it’s a result of increased scrutiny; the unrealistic performance management targets; the use of target grades etc. Which are all completely valid arguments and I agree, but it still scares me that so many teachers are doing so much for their students. Things that take away their students responsibility and independence in the learning process.

Things like case study guides with all of the content students need, completed knowledge organisers, again with all of the content students need. Completed exam questions, so students can learn to replicate. Revision booklets again with all of the content. It all worries me.

I’ve never hidden the fact that I facilitate learning, that my aim as a teacher is to make my students as independent as possible in my classroom and in their learning. That I want my students to leave school being able to learn for themselves; to be able to critically analyse and evaluate; to design and create; to research effectively; to be responsible for their own learning; to want to continue learning after compulsory education.

I’ve created numerous posts on developing independent learners such as these

Developing Independent Learners – Help Yourself Display and Resource Station

Developing Independent Learners – Seating Plans

Developing Independent Learners – Attempts at Flipped Learning

Developing Independent Learners

Developing Independent Learners – Independent Learning Projects

Developing Independence in the Humanities Classroom

Although my practices have evolved and changed over the last 4-5 years, developing independent learners is still at the core of my teaching.

Some ways I approach ‘developing independence’ are as follows

1 // ‘Help Yourself’ stations

I’m a big believer that students should learn to take responsibility for their progress and learning. That we should facilitate them in any way we can to help and support them but at the end of the day, we don’t sit their exams. That’s down to them.

Here’s some further reading from Tom Rogers if you’re interested

Anyway, whilst I do differentiate for students individual needs I also believe that students need to be able to identify when they need support and should develop the ability to be able to work out for themselves what that support looks like.

Therefore in my classrooms for the last 4 years, there have been a ‘help yourself’ areas or stations. This is an area where students can find resources that can support them in a variety of ways. For instance students can find sentence starter mats to help get them started with a variety of extended writing tasks, topic platemats/knowledge organisers that provide the key content of topics (see below for more details), blank maps, atlases, peer and self assessment sheets, note taking templates, timeline sheets and the list goes on. All of which students can help themselves to in order to help them with the tasks they are undertaking.

Initially I will direct students to particular support and overtime encourage them to help themselves to the resource they feel appropriate. Usually as students start to recognise their areas of ‘weakness’ they can independently select the appropriate support strategy.

Read more on ‘Help Yourself’ stations in my original post here.

2 // Project Breakdown

I start year 7 with a homework project that is broken up into smaller chunks, each with their own deadline. We cover map and atlas skills to ensure all students embark on the rest of their geographical learning with the basic skills required.

Student’s therefore complete a project as homework over the course of the first term on a European country of their choice. Each chunk of the project fits with the work covered in class allowing the students to demonstrate the skills and knowledge they developed in the lesson.

The breaking down of the project into chunks develops students time management skills and teaches them to break down a project over time to ensure they do not complete other projects just before the deadline.

Over time these breakdowns are removed so students can independently carry out projects without the haste of

3 // Blank or Basic Knowledge Organisers (AKA Placemats, Knowledge Mats etc.)

I’ve seen knowledge organisers with the entire topic on one sheet. All the content a student needs to know. It makes me question why the student needs to listen, to participate in the lesson, to do the tasks set by their teacher. If they have everything they need to know in front of them, surely it encourages students to ‘switch off’. Some may argue that students have KOs in order to then apply the knowledge, but I fear this reduces their ability to retrieve information.

I prefer to use KOs or placemats as they were originally intruduced to me to provide a basic outline of the content students generally struggle with.

For Geography for instance I often find students confuse the 3 tectonic plate boundaries and find it hard to visualise convection currents.


In History it tended to be the sequence of events, names and places.

placemat History.png

Therefore I created a basic visual summary for my students to collect if they so desired. These mats would consist again of the very basics to support my learners.

I also encourage students to create their own KOs at KS5 and hope to implement this into KS4 in due course. In order for my KS5 students to do this I’ve created KO sheets with blank boxes, except for a question or statement in which they respond to in order to collate the knowledge they need to demonstrate thus retrieving and revising the content for use later on.

KO ks5

KO ks5 2

4 // Revision

I refuse to give students the content they need to know in the form of a booklet or similar in order to revise from. Sorry, but they should get that from lessons, why else bother going to lessons if it’s not to learn the content?!

Instead for I provide a variety of resources to support my students.

To start with for each topic students receive an AfL grids with an outline of the topic content. At the start of the topic students self-assess their prior knowledge and then at the end their understanding of the topic in order to highlight the areas for future revision.

Then in regards to revision of the content I’ve created how to revise guides to help students to develop an ongoing approach to revision as well as teaching retrieval strategies and exam technique in class.

In addition I’ve created case study templates for students to complete to summarise the case studies and examples explored. To support revision these have been combined into a case study and exam question booklet so students can also apply the content to exam style questions.

gcse revision

All these strategies require my students to do the work and be responsible for their own learning and progress. I’ve provided the resources, taught the content and given them the support they need to succeed but it’s up to them to actually learn what they need to know for the exam.

5 // Inquiry/Enquiry based learning

At my school we have a real ethos for developing inquirers. I love that we do loads of inquiry based learning across the school. Students get to question, research and develop their curiosity throughout.

In KS3, at the start of each unit, my students write down questions. These questions influence my planning, the resources I use and the lesson objectives over the course of the topic. Students are the driving force of the lesson content. I teach the same year group the same topic to reach the same outcomes but the approach varies dependent on the class questions.

Now that I’m settled in my ‘new’ school for a full year, I’ve seen the progression students make through this approach. Enquiry truly develops their curiosity and interest; they constantly challenge me to further my subject knowledge and keep it up to date as their questions get us exploring aspects I’ve missed in the past or thought not relevant when planning schemes of work.

Through their questioning comes exploration, analysis and evaluation; deepening their understanding and I love it.

How do you develop independence in your learners? Feel free to leave a comment or get in touch.

Mrs Humanities

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Planning for Progress – A 5 year plan

This post began in December 2015, as I finished planning essentially what would be a 5 year GCSE course I started writing how I’d done it (Yes, how I had done it since I was a single person Humanities department with a few non-specialists teaching lessons). But for some reason I never finished it, but recently it’s been a topic of discussion so I thought I would come back and finish the post.

At my last school I developed a programme of learning that would take students through from year 7 to year 11 in Geography and History. Each step of the way setting foundations, building knowledge and strengthening their application of it. They would spiral through the content and skills time and time again, with each visit they would be strengthening what they had previously covered.

I left before implementing it at GCSE, so I’ve no idea how successful it was. The first cohort that went through the process sit their GCSE this year, 2018.


The idea behind this 5 year outlook of learning was that students would learn the general content of a GCSE course in Key Stage 3, then if they decide to continue with that subject at GCSE they would build upon their knowledge and understanding to a much greater depth with greater focus on complex skill development and exam practice.

You could say that I considered that Key Stage 3 would teach the breadth of the course whilst Key Stage 4 would be the time in which they go into the depth of the course.

At the time I teaching Humanities through 2 hours a week, so I had to consider how the foundations would be set in both Geography and History.  Therefore I also considered it important that the content covered at Key Stage 3 would provide students with sufficient knowledge and understanding of the subject for their futures whether they were to choose the subject at GCSE or not.

What would be the benefits of a 5 year plan?

  • Prior knowledge of subject content before GCSE course starts
  • Can go into greater depth of subject content as not teaching from scratch at GCSE
  • More time to focus on higher order skills
  • More time on exam practice
  • Retrieval practice

However I wasn’t naive to the challenges this would also create for instance how would I ensure that students weren’t bored by returning to previous learning, how would I ensure the learning was age appropriate and how would I show progress and development of knowledge from prior knowledge?

Choosing Topics

In order to decide the topics to be covered at Key Stage 3, I worked back from the required content and skills of the selected GCSE courses for Geography and History.

From there I created topics that would cover the foundation content needed for later on, which ended up looking something like this. Pink topics are those that combine Geography and History, yellow are solely historical topics and green solely Geographical.

KS3 Outline

Many of the topics in year 7 and 8 were thematic inquiries. For instance I broke the historical topics in year 7 and 8 into inquiries across the ages, year 8 for example studied Conflict through the Ages by investigating changes to armour, weapons and fortification from the Anglo-Saxons to WW2 along with the reasons for conflicts through time.

Programme of Learning

If I’m honest I hate schemes of work, they are restrictive and too prescribed. I prefer an outline of the content and skills to be covered so that teachers can choose the appropriate format and approach to teach their classes. I’m very much a facilitator of learning, I like my students to explore the content in which they are studying with the ability to digress somewhat to explore avenues of interest.

Therefore after having spent the first year at the school writing ridiculously detailed schemes of work which had to have ALL of the work embedded in it prior to teaching I rebelled and merely wrote a outline for each year group.

Scheme of Work for one topic…. 

schemes of work

Programme of learning for the entire year… for Humanities and Opening Minds


Tracking Progress

This was the final challenge. At the time, grade descriptors were yet to be published and I felt like assessing students was a minefield; yet it had to be done. The school wanted students to be assessed by grades 1-9 at both KS3 and 4 as well as a further break down into entering, developing, secure and mastered within each grade band. Mind blowing!!!

Anyway I created grade descriptors for grades 1-9 that could be taken down to KS3 from GCSE based upon what I already knew, what I’d learnt and what others were doing. Setting up a collaborative dropbox helped majorly and I learnt so much from other practitioners.

The descriptors were based on the assessment objectives from AQA Geography and History and looked something like this…

his 1his 2his 3

geog 1geog 2geog 3geog 4geog 5

Finally in order to help me to identify whether students were progressing effectively I created the following so called flight paths. These would then help me to identify the grades and where in the grade students were –  entering, developing, secure or mastered as mentioned above.


Since the school required frequent data drops for all groups at the same time, I then decided that I would monitor progress through the use of a learning matrix for every topic as shown below. These essentially outlined what would be covered in the topic, what students would need to know and the extent to which students had demonstrated their understanding – these were associated with the colours white, bronze, silver, gold and platinum as shown above.

learning matrix assessment for learning

The best thing about these has to be the fact that they reduced my marking workload whilst demonstrating student progress. Simply I would write the code of the criteria achieved in the students book where it had been achieved, I or my students would then highlight it yellow. I’d then draw steps and write the code of what I wanted students to do next and again one of us would highlight it, this time in pink. Once the student had acted on the feedback I would tick it off if achieved. This clearly showed to students the progress they were making and helped them to identify and verbalise what they needed to do to improve.

Unfortunately doing all that alone in addition to the day-to-day of teaching, led me to burnout and I left the school before full implementation. I’ve taken so much away from the process however and can clearly see similarities in the approach my team and I have developed in my current school.

I hope you find this post of use, feedback welcomed as usual. Also feel free to get in contact if you want copies of any of the resources here.

Best wishes,

Mrs Humanities

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Resource – AQA Geography AfL Grids

To encourage student responsibility for their learning and progress I use assessment for learning grids with my GCSE Geography students. I’ve recently completed the grids for all topics of the course and have also updated them to include the Key Ideas from the specification so thought I would share them.

The idea behind the grids is that they outline the content of the topic to the students, students have the opportunity to reflect on their prior knowledge and understanding of the content and then have the opportunity to reflect on the development of their knowledge and understanding of the topic after completion. This enables my students to identify areas for priority when it comes to revision of the topic. I’ve done similar with the Before and After Topic Review sheets, however the format I’m sharing today is clearer and easier to construct.

I’ve constructed a general template and completed it using the specification content.


Students print these off at the start of the topic and complete the before column using the following key:

Red =I have no prior knowledge of this.
Amber = I have some understanding of it but need to deepen my understanding.
Green = I already have a sound understanding of this part of the topic.

Afterwards they self-assess with the following key

Red = I do not understand this aspect of the topic and need to make it my revision priority. I may need to seek help.
Amber = I have a good understanding of it but need to develop my understanding of this part of the topic.
Green = I have a confident understanding of it and could teach it to another student.

Hazards imageResources image

We complete ‘past paper questions’ throughout the topic – these are from the SAMs as well as past GCSE papers, some we have constructed ourselves. Students complete the grids as they receive feedback, setting themselves targets for how to improve exam style questions or content to revise. Students regularly have opportunities to act on feedback and demonstrate their progress.

Now the part you probably actually came to this post for… the AfL grids. Click here for them. 

Hope you can make use of them.

Mrs Humanities


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Mrs Humanities shares… 5 Differentiation Strategies for SpLD

mrs humanities shares

Now I’m no expert in SEN or SpLD for that matter, but these are 5 strategies that I have found that work for my students over the past 5 years. These strategies have come from research or CPD I have undertaken.

1 // Pastel Colours for Powerpoints
Since I can remember I’ve been using pastel colours for PowerPoints and other digital documents. I read somewhere during my NQT year that pastel colours are preferable for students with dyslexia but are also beneficial for all students as white backgrounds can cause eye strain. Ever since then I’ve been using pastel colours for displaying information on the whiteboard. Yellow for task instructions, blue for information and green for assessment for learning. In addition the background is a light grey to reduce glare and sensitivity to bright lights.

Further reading on role and value of colour 

2 // Structure Scaffolds
To support students to develop their extended writing I’ve used a variety of scaffolding strategies over the years in order to enable students to break down the task and focus on demonstrating their knowledge as opposed to structure (initially). Some approaches include sentence_starters_mat, structure sheets/strips and tasks broken down into sections which come together as one piece in the end.

atstructure stips differentiatedtask break down

3 // Note Taking Supports
Students with dyslexia regularly struggle to take notes, the challenge of listening and writing at the same time is clear. In order to develop note taking skills, I’ve provided what many people these days call ‘Knowledge Organisers’ as a reference point and note taking supports to support laying out and recording information.

independent learners topic placematsindependent learners note taking

4 // Differentiated feedback
This really applies to all students, however there are things I focus more or less on with students with SpLD than others. For instance focusing on subject knowledge as opposed to spelling, punctuation and grammar, making students respond to questions as opposed to making improvements to a previous piece of work and editing as opposed to full re-writes.

5 // Words to use in a lesson
Really simple but effective way to develop subject specific terminology in SpLD students and their practice of spelling such terms has been the list of key terms to use during lessons. These appear as a list at the bottom of PowerPoint slides and students are given the key word list at the start of the topic. They’ve then been able to highlight the words for the lesson that they need to focus on using. These are the only spellings I have focused my attention on in the marking of their work and these are the only spellings I have had them correct. I found this worked particularly well with boys, particularly one higher ability boy in year 8 that particularly worried about the structure of his written work and SpAG, he’d focus too much on these rather than showing his understanding in written work. When we started to focus on the spelling of key terminology instead he wrote more about what he knew and understood. independent learners key word lists

I hope this post is of some use to you.

Share your approaches in the comments.

Mrs Humanities

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Developing a Feedback NOT Marking ‘Policy’

This summer I was tasked with the job of editing and improving the Department Handbook I had inherited. One of my key focuses was going to be on creating consistency in marking and feedback within the department.

In order to this I looked at what we already had in place and how we could become collectively more efficient whilst maintaining high quality assessment and feedback for our students.

Using the work I’d done at my former school in researching and putting into practice assessment and feedback strategies, I looked at what we were already doing individually and as a department and took it from there.

First things first we had the job of deciding what should be marked. In a department meeting we identified pieces of work that would be assessed, marked and feedforward could take place on. Assessment pieces were the first to be included, we tend not to assess by test due to our approach to the Middle Years Programme and instead our students produce pieces of work that will be assessed according to specific MYP criteria. Next we decided on one or two pieces of class work and/or homework per topic that would demonstrate student progress in particular skills or MYP criteria.

Below is an example for September to December for one year group. You can see we decided on particular skills and/or MYP criteria to assess and the work that would be associated with that.

assessed work

Our second job was to decide what type of assessment would take place and by whom; would it be assessed by the teacher, peers or by either.

types of assessment

In inadvertently we came up with a few guidance rules

  • If the task was to be assessed for the Humanities faculty then this would be assessed by the teacher only, however ACE or SpACE peer assessment could be carried out throughout the process to help students to make improvements before submitting their final piece.
  • After feedback of any kind, the teacher would assess the piece of work that has undergone Feedback-Feedforward.
  • If there were quantitative or definitive answers e.g. grid references, country names, numbers etc. then it could be peer or teacher assessed so long as mark scheme was provided.
  • Any work could be peer assessed part way through the task, providing time was given for students to continue and make suggested improvements before submission. Also know as time to Stop. Peer Assess. Progress. in my classroom.

Each piece of assessed work was then colour coded to identify who should be marking it.

types of assessment

type of assessment

Thirdly I looked at the best practice taking place in the department and my own research into marking and feedback strategies to create a departmental toolkit to reduce workload and to develop effective Feedback-Feedfoward cycles.

In the end it ended up looking something like this…

page 1 and 2page 3 and 4page 5 and 6

And frequency of marking? Well… “There is no strict rule on how frequently our student books should be marked and assessed.”

The only rule we have is… “Students must receive feedback in some form on a regular basis – this can be through verbal or written feedback, whole class or individual”.


If you’re looking for ideas for marking and feedback, there are plenty more on my site. Here are a few to get you started

If you’d like a copy of the departmental feedback and marking document to give you a starting point with your own department, please feel free to get in contact.

Hope the post is of use.

Mrs Humanities