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


Resource – Differentiation Strategies CPD

differentationDifferentiation. I’ve only recently began to recognise how misconstrued my understanding of differentiation was in my first few years of teaching.

I guess my original understanding was that it meant providing different work for students based on their needs and abilities. At times, as a result I would find myself planning lessons in such a way that I’d essentially be teaching multiple lessons in the same lesson in order to cater for the ‘All, Most, Some’ learning objectives my first school required. No wonder I found it such hard work. Then when I started teaching mixed ability groups, it got even worse but I got really good at differentiation by task. However that’s not how differentiation works I’ve come to realise. There’s far more to it than that.

In my formative years of teaching, I went by the rule ‘differentiation by outcome is not acceptable’, I can’t remember if it was my first school that had this rule or whether I’d learnt it on my PGCE course. Either way, actually it is okay, especially now that in Geography and History at GCSE all students undertake the same questions, there is no differentiation between those doing higher tier and foundation. They all do the same, yet their outcomes will be different!!!! It’s now all about scaffolding students to achieve.

But differentiation goes beyond that.

When I was training to teacher I learnt that differentiation was ‘the process by which differences between learners are accommodated so that all students in a group have the best possible chance of learning’ as described by the Training and Development Agency for Schools and that differentiation could be by task, support and outcome.

  • differentiation by task involved setting different tasks for students of different abilities
  • differentiation by support meant giving more help to certain students
  • differentiation by outcome meant setting everyone the same task and allowing student response at different levels

But I’ve learnt that differentiation is far more than this, it’s a teacher’s response to learner’s needs and therefore can be planned or unplanned, long term or short term, explicit or subtle.

It is impossible to differentiate for every student and every need all of the time but being able to adapt and respond in the moment is just as important as planning support in advance.

In fact you may differentiate in any number of ways

– Task
– Instruction
– Resources
– Process
– Outcome
– Seating plan
– Groups
– Feedback
– Subject Content
– Questioning
– Assessment
– Dialogue
– Environment
– Rules and Routines
– Interests
– Approaches to learning
– Pastoral Support

As I put together resources for a CPD session this week, it go me thinking.
– Is it possible to evidence all of this?
– Should we be asked to provide evidence of differentiation in books?
– How is differentiation observed and recognised in lesson observations?
– Is differentiation often to focused on being able to see it through different tasks/support materials?

In particular I started thinking about the fact that if all students sit the same exam at GCSE the key focus should be on scaffolding to succeed rather than capping students with different tasks that suit their ‘ability’.

If I’m honest I would say my differentiation technique now which has been developed over the last 5 years is to teach to the top and differentiate down through scaffolding to support all students to achieve the highest possible grade/level/mark.

Anyway I’m starting to digress. I’m sure your here for the resources.

The CPD session gave an introduction to differentiation for NQTs and ITT students with practical ideas to take away.


Now if you’d like a copy of the PowerPoint click here. 

I hope you find the resource of use.

Feel free to share your thoughts on differentiation.

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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Guest Post from @Jennnnnn_x – Stretch & Challenge. A few ideas….

guest postStretch & Challenge. A few ideas….

How can we ensure all students are challenged every lesson? Here are a few ideas I have used to encourage challenge in my Geography lessons recently.

What can you find out?

“Learning happens when people have to think hard” Prof. Robert Coe – Durham University. How often do we make students think hard – looking back I know that I don’t do it as often as I probably should…

So here is one idea I have used at the start of my lessons:

This example was for a Year 10 introductory lesson to Urban Issues.


I left my students with this image on the board/a copy each and then left them to think for 15 minutes (which felt like eternity) I then gave them some discussion time. Amazingly they came up with most of the ideas off the specification – they annotated their image to show their thoughts and added to them through discussion. I repeated this with my year 9’s and while there was more moaning, once they realised I wouldn’t help them they tried a bit harder and I had similar outcomes – they had summarised our whole topic in about 25 words and from one photograph.  Have a go – you might be surprised what they come up with!


An old one, but a good one. I remember seeing hexagons everywhere a few years ago but I had forgotten about them until I came across an old example when tidying my classroom. So I started using them again and I remembered why I like them so much! There is no right answer – which means there is lots of room for discussion and often the students come up with links that you might not have thought of.

I used this idea to support an exam question in a year 13 lesson looking at LDC countries. I put images onto the hexagons and the students cut them out, stuck them next to others and then annotated the links between them. They then used this to plan their essay. It worked well due to two reasons – it supported lower ability students as the photographs helped as a prompt to start different sections but it also challenged the higher ability students because the ‘link’ is usually where this class fall down – they forget to link their ideas to both the question but also other topics.

Here is an example:


IDEAL analysis

Command words – are the one thing every time I mark mock exams I wish my students understood. Despite doing a range of activities linked to command words and having them stuck around my room and on the table in front of them, I till find students explain when the question asks them to describe and vice-versa.

With the new examination changes and the increasing level of literacy needed to interpret some of the questions the focus on command words is more important than ever!

I went to a PIXL conference back in November and saw Rebecca Chew (@MissChewBeka) present her ideas on stretch and challenge… I have used every single one of them in various lessons since but my favourite is most definitely the IDEAL analysis.

It is based around a need for students to understand the different command words, but also that as we move through the word IDEAL the difficulty increases.


I – identify – what is it that you can you see?
D – describe – what does it look like, where are different objects/landforms?
E – explain – why is it like that, what are the reasons for what you can see?
A – apply – where else might this happen, how might it be similar/different?
L – link – how does this link to wider geography, other topics, other places?

Students seem to like it and more importantly find it useful. I recently marked a year 10 mock which asked students to use a figure (a photograph of the devastation caused by an earthquake) to support their answer and saw many of them plan their answer using IDEAL.

Below is also an example of a differentiated worksheet given to support some of the students in my class.


There are some more examples on my twitter if you want to take a look (@jennnnnn_x)

Hope some of these ideas are useful,

Jen (@jennnnnn_x)

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Guest post from @ploguey – Differentiation ideas that work every time

guest post

I’m really excited to share with you the second in the series of guest posts on the site. I love how everyday differentiation has continued to change and develop since I wrote my last post on it some years ago.

If you have an idea or something to share, get in touch.

Hope you enjoy this one from Paul, @ploguey.


It’s a feeling we all have very often. Your class is exiting the classroom door and you have that sinking feeling, and the thoughts begin to cross your mind:

  • I didn’t do enough differentiation in that lesson.
  • I didn’t do any differentiation in that lesson.
  • Students could have made more progress.
  • I was sure that they all would have got that done with no problems.

Scenarios like these really stress me out. It also means that I tend to try and overcompensate the next time I see that class, forcing hours of extra planning upon myself. Once, for a lesson observation, I differentiated for every single student in the class. Yes, you read that right. The lesson was a huge success; however, the main piece of feedback was that I need to focus on improving my work-life balance.

The best aspect of EduTwitter is the virtually unlimited access to teaching and learning styles from teachers all over the world and from other subjects. It’s been my absolute joy to try and test out strategies and make them work for my classes.

These are my favourite methods to use, as they are easy to plan, not time consuming, students enjoy using them and they are designed to support students to produce high-quality work. I have shared these ideas at our differentiation CPD recently.

Read, Edit, Improve

An idea I magpied from @JamieClarke85. This method is designed to support students in answering exam questions and builds upon the WABOLL method (What a Bad One Looks Like). Students are given a poor question response and annotate the mistakes and problems with the response. They then feedback and offer ways to improve the answer in the ‘edit’ section. Finally, they improve the exam question. It’s been highly successful in assisting lower ability students.  It’s one of my favourite methods because students end up practicing exam skills and doing exam questions without even realising it!read edit improve

@jennnnnn_x and @geographyhanna have done wonderful adaptions of this.

read edit improve 1read edit improve 2

Structure Strips

One of my newest methods and I love it how easy it is for students. We are following the new AQA 9-1 Spec and 9-mark questions are very tricky for students to manage.structure-strips.jpg

The structure strip breaks down the question into manageable paragraphs and supports students with the knowledge and skills necessary needed to be successful. Again, it’s been great in supporting my lower ability students in Year 10, but it’s also allowing my higher ability students to reach the top end of expected responses while they adapt to the new accepted writing style. Over time, I tend to take away the targeted questioning for the higher ability students to ensure they are being challenge.

Originally inspired from @_Jopayne and @MrsSpalding.


IDEAL analysis

My students love this one, particularly my Year 11s. A simple restructuring of a stimulus question by focusing on the five main geographical skills of interpretation: Identify, Describe, Explain, Analyse and Link. This allows students to build up their answers through probing.  I’ve seen Year 11 students writing this on their mock papers and using it to answers 6- and 8-mark questions.

IDEAL Analysis 1ideal-analysis-2.png

Chilli Challenges

Inspired from the easily recognised Nando’s menu, it offers students a choice of task that suits their understanding and ability. I have found that the ‘Red Hot’ challenge is by far the most popular one, so careful consideration is needed to be given to ensure that students are not pushing themselves too far and struggle as a result. Adaptions included differentiating by target grade, flight path etc.

Chilli Challenges

Thanks for reading.

Paul (@ploguey)