Practical Skills In Biology: The 12 Practicals

So I’m not going to go into too much detail as to why I think the new practical arrangements could actually be a good thing for Sciences at A Level as @hrogerson ( and @alomshaha ( have already got there. I am going to have a think about what the 12 Core Practicals might look like.

12 Practicals in two years could actually be much more than any A Level class does now, as for OCR you could only do 2 (a Qualitative and Quantitative) and for AQA you could only do 1 (The EMPA or ISA). It would be hard not to prepare students for this by doing some sort of practice practical but it’s possible to prepare students through a paper exercise. If you do the ISA route for AQA then there are 6 marks for students doing practicals in lessons but that is just a sheet that the teacher signs which isn’t checked at all so open to abuse. Edexcel has a version of the Core Practical concept that the DfE have announced; particular practicals are learning objectives and there are questions on them in the exams. There is only a tick sheet to confirm that the students have done these practicals, which is just as open to abuse as the AQA one however in the A2 year students have a project to complete, an independent piece of practical work. The AS Core Practicals are designed to build up the students’ practical skills so they can do the project. If a teacher did not do these practicals with their students then they would find the final project incredibly hard as it does require a lot of time. I usually had a month of teaching dedicated to the project when I taught Edexcel.

The minimum of 12 practicals have to address particular techniques outlined in the DfE document, so here are some ideas about what practicals the students might have to do.

  1. use appropriate apparatus to record a range of quantitative measurements (to include mass, time, volume, temperature, length and pH): This could be any quantitative practical including enzyme reactions, diffusion, osmosis, photosynthesis, respiration and field work.
  2. use appropriate instrumentation to record quantitative measurements, such as a colorimeter (membrane permeability with temperature or ethanol e.g. beetroot or quantitative Benedict’s)  or potometer (measuring transpiration)
  3. use laboratory glassware apparatus for a variety of experimental techniques to include serial dilutions (enzyme or substrate concentration, osmosis, diffusion)
  4. use of light microscope at high power and low power, including use of a graticule (root tip squash for mitosis, measuring size of cells e.g. cheek, blood, onion epiermis)
  5. produce scientific drawing from observation with annotations (microscopy and dissection)
  6. use qualitative reagents to identify biological molecules (Benedict’s, Biuret, Iodine, Emulsion tests)
  7. separate biological compounds using thin layer/paper chromatography (amino acids or chlorophyll) or electrophoresis (DNA fragments or protein analysis)
  8. safely and ethically use organisms to measure:
    1. plant or animal responses (tropism in plants, turning behaviour in woodlice, eye stalk retraction in snails)
    2. physiological functions (measuring heart rate of daphina with caffeine, measuring breathing in humans)
  9. use microbiological aseptic techniques, including the use of agar plates and broth (antibiotic properties of plant compounds, use of antibiotic multidiscs, Gram staining)
  10. safely use instruments for dissection of an animal organ, or plant organ (heart, eye, kidney, flower)
  11. use sampling techniques in fieldwork (random sampling and systematic sampling for plants and animals
  12. use ICT such as computer modelling, or data logger to collect data, or use software to process data (data loggers can be used for many plant and respiration experiments)

This therefore has the potential to have excellent opportunities practical work throughout the AS and A2 year. What’s interesting in the Ofqual document is this: “There will not be any non-exam assessment of practical skills for AS qualifications. However, the requirement for practical work to be undertaken and for the conceptual knowledge and understanding of practical skills to be assessed in the exams remains.” (page 12)

This could mean that an A2 Project that is internally assessed is still possible.

Of course one of the things that worries teachers is that these Core Practicals will not be done as in class practicals and any tick sheet will just be filled out with no checks from the exam board. Today I read on the Biotutor Chat forum a comment from someone in Edexcel that even though the details are still to be finalised it looks like that evidence will be required that the core practicals are carried out e.g.  a tick list and written evidence of student work (lab book) to a standard of competency. This evidence can all then be moderated; so it’s likely there will be visiting moderators going to centres to check that practical work is being carried out.

So personally I think these changes could be very good for A Level Practical Work in Biology.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Use of Graded Lesson Observations to Assess and Develop Teaching (The Rest)

Assessing Teaching & Learning

The quality of teaching and learning that takes place in the classroom is one of the highest priorities of any teacher. A student in a highly effective teacher’s classroom has almost a year’s advantage over a student in a lower effective teacher’s class (Slater et al. 2009). Once a member of staff is in a management position then the teaching and learning of the subject area, department, faculty and institution becomes a priority too as they progress up the ladder from middle to senior management. To gain an accurate picture of what is happening in lessons then as much data as possible should be gathered and OTL of those in the team should therefore form part of that data. The question of how reliable that data is and if the process of grading lessons needs to be examined and understood so that this data, like all other student data can be placed in the correct context.

The first issue with OTL is the fact that there is an observer in the room, a change to the normal classroom environment, an extra adult in the room who is usually known to the students as a senior member of staff. The teacher and the students know that the lesson is being observed and therefore the Hawthorn Effect comes into play; people react differently in situations when they are being observed. The teacher’s and students’ behaviour is then different which can have positive or negative connotations. Teachers may deliver lessons that are very different to how they usually practice; Samph (1976) with the use of microphones showed that teachers made better use of questions and gave more praise when they were being observed. O’Leary (2014) quotes a teacher from his studies that reacts badly to lesson observations, bringing out the worst in them, losing confidence and then makes silly mistakes in the lesson, though teachers may take the opportunity of an observed lesson to show off their skills. Wragg (1999) gives advice to observers as to minimise their impact though their behaviour, attitude and dress and now with the effective use of video lessons can be observed remotely.

Classrooms are busy environments and lessons can be fast paced with many ideas, concepts, misconceptions and explanations covered. An observer needs to be alert, but there is little chance they can pick up on everything that takes place in the every part of the lesson and how that might have an effect on the students. However even though someone is observing an event, they can miss important things that may be relevant. In an often cited and reproduced experiment, Simons & Chabris (1999) demonstrated this inattentional blindness, that when an individual was observing an event intently e.g. counting the number of passes of a basketball between certain individuals on a video, then they missed an unexpected and unusual event e.g. someone in a gorilla suit walking into the frame. An observer in the lesson cannot expect and shouldn’t be expected to notice everything and that could mean that the judgement as to the grade of lesson could be inaccurate. This is where the feedback given to the person being observed must be a two way process and the observer must be willing to accept that there are things they may not have seen that are relevant.

The next issue with OTL is the subjectivity of the observer. There are many different opinions as to what makes good teacher and therefore a good lesson. The Ofsted criteria, though not being used in its entirety to judge a lesson, provides a framework and the new Teachers’ Standards that were simplified in 2012 by the DfE and revised in 2013 deal directly with teaching (DfE, 2013). These standards are more concise than the previous ones and so rely more on the professional judgement of managers as to how they are to be interpreted and what evidence will be used to demonstrate that a teacher is meeting them. People according to Fawcett (1996: 3) have a habit of “seeing what we are looking for and to look for only what we know about”. How an observer judges a lesson is therefore subject to the problems of subjectivity and bias. Wragg (1999) explains how not everything in a lesson can be observable and quantifiable for example how do you measure the extent that students have been inspired by the lesson. This leads to the simple question of: Can someone recognise a successful teacher when they see one?

This question was examined by Strong et al. (2011) where they showed video clips of lessons effective and ineffective teachers, based upon value-added (how well a student does compared to their prior achievement) scores. The video clips were shown to school principals/school administrators, teachers and members of the public. Their conclusions were that while there was a strong agreement between the judges, they were unable to reliably predict teacher effectiveness, no matter what their experience. There is no difference between an education expert’s ability to rate an effective teacher as effective, than a member of the public. While watching short video clips may not be the best way to judge a teacher’s ability and the videos were of different classes to the ones that the value-added scores were for, it would be assumed that someone working in education would be more accurate that a lay person. One of the experiments involved the use of The Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS), developed at the University of Virginia to measure the effectiveness,  which did show a slight improvement of being able to accurately identify an effective teacher. Another study by Sammons et al. (2006) examining observer reliability and validity in lesson observations showed that the best reliability of two observers agreeing with each other after 12 days of training. The best case from Sammons et al. (2006) and worse case from Strong et al. (2011) were translated into Ofsted criteria by Coe (2014) and a summary of this can be seen in Table 1.


Probability that 2nd observer disagrees

1st observer grade


Best case

Worst case









Requires Improvement








Table 1: Reliability: Probability that a 2nd observer agrees with the 1st (adapted from Coe (2014))

 Looking at observer validity, does the grade given reflect the other measures of teacher effectiveness e.g. value added scores Coe’s (2014) summary can be seen in Table 2.


Probability value-added
data disagrees

1st observer gives


Best case

Worst case









Requires Improvement








Table 2: Validity: Probability that a grade reflects the value-added data (adapted from Coe (2014))

Considering the significance of getting a grade 3 or 4 in a lesson observation in my institution with the consequences of having a re-observation, which if there isn’t an improvement can lead to capability procedures, the evidence that another observer is just as likely if not more than likely to disagree and their grade might not reflect other measures of teacher effectiveness does suggest that not only are the grades from OTLs unreliable but their use in capability procedures is unfair.

An observer can see the teaching that takes place in a lesson, for example: by counting the number of questions asked, analysing the types of question asked, counting the number of different students who were spoken to and judging the quality of a teacher’s communication and explanation of the material covered. However the learning that takes place in the students’ minds is invisible.  Learning is the acquisition or modification of knowledge or skills that usually has a permanent change on the student. It is this permanent change that brings up the first problem with measuring learning in a lesson. As learning takes place over time and an OTL takes place over approximately an hour, can anyone really say if the students have learnt the material covered. The students may be able to recite back knowledge at the end of the lesson and maybe they can retain that information for the start of the next lesson but does that mean they have truly learnt it? Nuthall (2005, 2007) says that much of the learning that takes place in a lesson can be unexpectedly unrelated to what the teachers intend, assume or do. So as learning cannot be seen and any learning that does take place may be independent of the teacher, proxies for learning are needed in order to make an assessment as to the effectiveness of the lesson.

The easiest proxy for learning that an observer can see is the activity of the students, their performance in the lesson, for example are they: on task, writing things down, paying attention and taking part in the lesson. While this seems to be a good measure Nuthall (2005: 922) argues that learning “cannot be seen in the activity of the teacher or student.” The work of Soderstrom & Bjork (2013: 13) states that “learning can occur with no discernible changes in performance” and “performance gains during training can impede post-training learning compared to those conditions that induce more errors during performance”.  It would seem that student performance is not a good proxy for learning. Coe (2012: xii) outlines other poor proxies for learning, things that are easy to observe but not necessarily about learning:

  1. Students are busy: lots of work is done (especially written work)
  2. Students are engaged, interested, motivated
  3. Students are getting attention: feedback, explanations
  4. Classroom is ordered, calm, under control
  5. Curriculum has been ‘covered’ (i.e. presented to students in some form)
  6. (At least some) students have supplied correct answers (whether or not they really understood them or could reproduce them independently)

So if an observer wants to focus on the learning that is taking place in the lesson they need to be aware that what good evidence might look like and understand the limitations of what they can see. Coe (2014, xii) states “Learning happens when people have to think hard” which is similar to the principles of cognitive science as described by Willingham (2009:54) “Memory is the residue of thought”. It would seem that OTL is limited in what it can tell about if students are learning or not.

Developing Teacher Performance

The latest standards for teachers (DfE, 2013:9) state that a teacher must “take responsibility for improving teaching through appropriate professional development, responding to advice and feedback from colleagues” Schools provide opportunities for CPD though the use of In-Service Training Days (INSET) which can take place during the academic year in the day or as twilight, after school hours, sessions. OTL feedback is clearly an excellent opportunity for areas for development to be highlighted as well as areas of good practice that could be shared with colleagues.

However the research of O’Leary (2012) highlighted that the use of graded OTL has led to a system that just judges teacher performance and is not focussed on teacher development. Teachers under pressure to perform for senior management produce normalised lessons based on methods that senior management have promoted as best practice so there is an inauthenticity, as described by Ball (2003), of teacher behaviour and classroom performance in graded OTL. This is exemplified by the delivery of rehearsed showcase lessons designed to play the game, tick the boxes and jump though the hoops in order to succeed. This means that any feedback from the observation will not be relevant to the teacher as the observer didn’t see the usual way the teacher delivers a lesson and the teacher will not be interested in the feedback as they know they created an artificial situation. The use of Learning Walks where observers drop-in to a lesson for a short period of time to informally see what is taking place in lessons (usually with a particular pedagogical theme) or no-notice observations could be used to deal with this issue. However teachers should be given the professional courtesy of being notified that someone might be observing their class and they should be given an opportunity to showcase their skills in the classroom though the notion of a showcase lesson is one to be avoided if an observation is going to accurate. The idea that anyone could arrive in the lesson to observe what is happening leads to creativity being stifled and teachers adopting an orthodox style for delivering lessons. In a well-known piece of research on the importance of feedback to students, Butler (1988) demonstrated that when given only comments to a test students improved on their next test results on average 30% higher compared to students who were just given their scores who on average did not improve. Students who were given a grade and comments did not do any better than those who were just given the scores. When given a grade and feedback students look at the grade and do not remember the feedback. While teachers are adults, the mixture of grading and feedback given by a graded OTL could lead to the teacher focussing on the grade and ignoring the feedback. Teachers are more worried about if they’ve passed rather than how they could develop.

Management Implications

If, therefore the data gained from graded lesson observations is inaccurate then other data needs to be used to meet the requirements of PM and PD which can be more objective and give a real impression of what takes place in lessons. When assessing the teaching and learning in an institution it is more than just OTL grades that Ofsted uses, therefore these data should be looked at too by management and potentially given more weighting than graded OTLs. In a talk by an Ofsted Lead Inspector (Myatt, 2014) some of this data is outlined. A work scrutiny where there is an examination of the students’ work over the course of many lessons e.g. exercise books or written notes can give an impression of what is taking place in lessons and give an indication of teacher feedback. Students are spoken to see if they are aware of what progress they are making and what their impression of lessons are. Are there high expectations of the students where support and challenge is offered to those who need it? External exam results and their associated value added scores is an accurate measure of the students’ success in a particular class however the context of these needs to be taken into account. Achievement and progress has to be looked at over time, at least a KeyStage (2-3 years). These data cannot just been seen in OTL but need to be triangulated by an institution so that they accurate and reliable.

When dealing with PD, then the evidence would seem to suggest that it is through collaboration with peers that allow teachers to develop (Hattie, 2012 & Robinson, 2007). When a bottom up process of allowing teachers to develop teaching though inquiry, collaboration and peer observation is used the results are twice as effective. A OTL model that would support this process best is the Lesson Study Model outlined in Lewis et al. (2006), where in small groups teachers critically discuss and evaluate their teaching to produce a lesson or series of lessons which are then taught by one member and observed by other members of the team and afterwards an open reflection of the lessons is discussed and critiques with ideas and evaluations are feedback into the next lesson study and openly shared with other colleagues. The focus is on the lesson and the students’ progress and learning and not the teacher. Figure 1 provides an outline of each part of the process.


Lesson Study

Figure 1 Outline of the lesson study cycle (taken from Lewis et al. 2006: 4).

This model, according to O’Leary (2014) adopts a systematic approach to that concentrates on collecting data on the learning that takes place in lesson. Teachers are less likely to crease showcase lessons and therefore focus on the development of teaching and learning without the high stakes scrutiny that stifles teacher creativity. This model is being used by the National Teacher Enquiry Network (NTEN) for teachers to refine and explore ideas focussing on the detail of the needs of the students for lessons. A peer observation approach that uses mentoring and coaching concepts as recommended by Bush & Middlewood (2005) and Bush & Bell (2002) at the beginning of the observation process rather than at the end as used in the observation policy where I work.


If the evidence outlined above is to be accepted, and I believe that it should be, it would seem that the use of graded OTL does not allow the major goals of the lesson observation policy where I work to be achieved. Having an observer in the lesson means that the classroom environment is not an accurate reflection of what usually happens due to the Hawthorn effect and the fact that teachers prepare lessons that are tailored to meet the requirements of the grading criteria rather than show their normal teaching.  The observer’s opinion of the lesson is too subjective and even though independent observation may corroborate the grade, the accuracy of the grade may not reflect the performance of the teacher. The observer may miss key elements of the lesson as they are subject to inattentional blindness and an often used measure for what makes good learning in a lesson, looking at the students’ performance, may bare no relation to the learning that is taking place. As teachers often prepare showcase lessons for observations any feedback for areas for development may fall on deaf ears as they know that it is not related to how they teach and the focus to just get the grade may result in the feedback being forgotten and any development plan be incomplete.

The data gained from the process of graded OTLs is clearly demonstrated by the evidence as being flawed. I do not think the process of lesson observation should be done away with, only through actually being in the lesson can an understanding of what takes place and what its effect on the students is can be seen, so they should be used by management and colleagues as a tool for staff development. Lesson observations are important but their importance in assessing teaching and learning should be considered much less in the light of other more reliable data. O’Leary (2013: 694) argues that it is time for a “moratorium” on the use of OTL and teachers need to be “given greater professional autonomy with regard to OTL”. A more formative and discursive model which allows for greater collaboration between teachers would be a more appropriate way to develop teachers. The Lesson Study Model allows this to take place as well as provide data for management to add to all the other data that is gathered to provide an accurate picture of the teaching and learning that takes place in an institution and place teachers in charge if their professional learning and development.


Amazon (2013). Perfect Lesson (search). [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed 25th January 2014].

Ball, S. (2003). The teacher’s soul and the terrors of performativity. Journal of Education Policy. 18(2) pp.215 – 228.

Bush, T. & Bell, L. (2002). The Principles and Practice of Educational Management. London: Paul Chapman.

Bush, T. & Middlewood, D. (2005). Leading and Managing People in Education. London: Sage

Coe, R. (2013). Improving Education: A triumph of hope over experience. [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed 21st January 2014].

Coe, R. (2014). Classroom observation: it’s harder than you think. [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed 21st January 2014].

Covey, S.R., (2013). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. 3rd ed. [Kindle Version] Rosetta Books LLC.

Department for Education. (2012). Teacher appraisal and capability. [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed 20th January 2014].

Department for Education. (2012a). Teacher appraisal and capability – frequently asked questions. [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed 20th January 2014].

Department for Education. (2013). Teachers’ Standards – Revised June 2013. [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed 25th January 2015]

Everard, K.B., Morris, G. & Wilson, I. (2004). Effective School Management. 4th ed. London: Paul Chapman.

Fawcett, M. (1996). Learning Though Child Observation. London: Jessica Kingsley

Hattie, J. (2012). Visible Learning for Teachers, Maximising Impact on Learning. 1st ed. Abingdon: Routledge

6th Form College. (2013). Observation of Learning, Teaching and Assessment Policy. [Unpublished Document]

Lawson, T. (2011). Sustained classroom observation: what does it reveal about changing teaching practices? Journal of Further and Higher Education. 35 (3), pp.317 – 337.

Lewis, C., Perry, R. & Murata, A. (2006). How Should Research Contribute to Instructional Improvement? The Case of Lesson Study. Educational Researcher. 35(3), pp.3-14.

Myatt, M. (2014). What is the future of lesson observation in our schools? [Video File] Retrieved from: Last Accessed: 27th January 2014

Nuthall, G. (2005). The cultural myths and realities of classroom teaching and learning: A personal journey. The Teachers College Record. 107(5), pp.895 – 934

Nuthall, G. (2007). The Hidden Lives of Learners. Wellington: NZCER Press

Ofsted. (2012). A good education for all. [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed 20th January 2014].

Ofsted. (2013). School inspection handbook. [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed 21st January 2014]

O’Leary, M. (2012). Time to turn worthless lesson observation into a powerful tool for improving teaching and learning. InTuition/CPD Matters – IfL. 9(4) pp.16 – 18

O’Leary, M. (2013). Surveillance, performativity and normalised practice: the use and impact of graded lesson observations in Further Education colleges. Journal of Further and Higher Educatio. 37(5) pp.694  714.

O’Leary, M. (2014). Classroom observation: a guide to the effective observation of teaching and learning. London: Routledge

Robinson, V.M.J. (2007). School Leadership and Student Outcomes: Identifying What Works and Why. ACEL Monograph Series. 41 Available at: Last Accessed: 27th January 2014

Samph, T. (1976). Observer effects on teacher verbal classroom behaviour.  Journal of Educational Psychology. 68 (6), pp.736 – 741

Simons, D. J. & Chabris, C. F. (1999). Gorillas in our midst: sustained inattentional blindness for dynamic events. Perception. 28, pp.1059 – 1074.

Slater, H., Davies, N. M. & Burgess, S. (2012). Do Teachers Matter? Measuring the Variation in Teacher Effectiveness in England. The Centre for Market and Public Organisation Working Series No. 09/212. Available at:

Soderstrom, N. C. & Bjork, R. A. (2013). Learning versus performance. In D. S. Dunn (Ed.), Oxford bibliographies online: Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press. Available at: [Last Accessed 25th January 2014]

Willingham, D.T. (2009). Why Don’t Students Like School?  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Wragg, E.C. (1999). An introduction to classroom observation. 2nd ed. London: Routledge.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Use of Graded Lesson Observations to Assess and Develop Teaching & Learning (Context)

The observation of lessons originated in the middle of the 19th century with the formation of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate (HMI) and since then its use has spread from being “first associated with pre‐service training, then with initial training in a first job, then with competency procedures, and only more latterly with inspection and quality assurance measures.” (Lawson, 2010: 319). It is only however in the last 20 years that lesson observations have been used on a regular basis outside of ITT in schools and colleges. In this space of time the two main aims of lesson observations have been to measure the quality assurance (QA) and quality improvement (QI) of teaching and learning (Wragg, 1999). These factors; is the teaching and learning fit for purpose and what can be done to develop teaching and learning are key in management and leadership of an educational establishment so it comes as no surprise that OTL are used to meet both requirements.

The purpose of OTL in any institution is outlined in their Policy Document(s). Rather than using the business terms of QA and QI, the many possible uses and frameworks mentioned in the research generally use the more education based terminology of  Performance Management (PM) and Professional Development (PD). It is somewhere on a continuum between PD and PM that policy documents state the purpose of OTL.  The two major models identified in the literature by O’Leary (2013) are Gosling (2002) and Wragg (1999). The purpose of OTL where I work are to:

  • support improvement in learning and teaching
  • identify strengths and areas for improvement in learning to inform development
  • assess the quality of learning and teaching
  • share best practice
  • prepare staff for external inspections
  • create a profile of observations
  • as an Ofsted requirement

These purposes most closely follow Wragg’s (1999) contexts for studying and determining action, identifying the use of OTL for both sides of the PM/PD continuum; a ‘one size fits all’ model. In addition the policy document uses the Ofsted criteria to grade lessons using the current criteria of:

  1. Outstanding
  2. Good
  3. Required Improvement
  4. Inadequate

These grades are awarded with respect to the grade descriptors that Ofsted use to judge the quality of teaching in a school and are detailed in handbook they produce of instructions and guidance for inspectors carrying out inspections.  However this section has the following footnote:

“These grade descriptors describe the quality of teaching in the school as a whole, taking account of evidence over time. While they include some characteristics of individual lessons, they are not designed to be used to judge individual lessons.” (Ofsted, 2013: 39)

This can be interpreted that Ofsted do not recommend using their criteria for grading and judging individual lessons which is counter to the empirical research by O’Leary (2011) which reported that two-thirds of respondents recognised an Osfted style model of OTL in their institution.  This includes the use of “Mocksted” inspections where external consultants are used to prepare an institution for the real thing.

It is no wonder why the use of graded observations is a source of contention among teachers with Wragg (1999: 24) arguing:

“One of the major problems with rating scales is that they appear objective, but are in practice heavily laden with the values of those who conceived them. They can be misused, becoming a crude device for overriding teacher’ individual professional judgement and making them strive to achieve the goals of their superiors, especially if the observation takes place in the context if assigning merit, awards or carrying out appraisal.”

This is further backed up by O’Leary (2013: 83) that shows that grading observations has a “restrictive and often negative impact on teachers’ professional identities and their notions of self.”

It is understandable that at a management level, this method grading teachers’ lessons provides a clear and measurable way to assess the teaching and learning that takes place in an institution as well as identify teachers that require improvement and areas for development. However the question is; Does this method of grading teachers actually give an accurate representation of what’s going on and provides teachers with the motivation to improve?

There have been books written about how to carry out lesson observations and how to deliver the “Perfect” Ofsted lesson but the research into if OTLs actually work as a way to carry out PM and PD has not been as well disseminated. O’Leary (2013) is the first evidence-based approach book to address this subject and Coe (2013, 2014) has synthesised what research from the United States has to say on the subject. I will be using this research to analyse if the main two aims of the lesson observation policy of where I work of 1. Assess the teaching and learning in the institution and 2. To develop teacher performance is the best policy.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Use of Graded Lesson Observations to Assess and Develop Teaching & Learning (Introduction)

So it’s that time of year when I have to write an assignment, and like I’ve done before I am posting the drafts of my sections as I write them. When I came up with the idea for this topic back in October there had only been a couple of blog posts about this subject, over the past month it seems like everyone who’s anyone in the twitterverse has put in their two cents. This has the advantage of more evidence for me to sift through and the disadvantage of trying to sound original. Oh well, at least I know I was on the band wagon before there was one.


The observation of teaching and learning (OTL) has become an integral part of a teacher’s career. From initial teacher training (ITT) through to the yearly observations of experienced staff, in every stage of a child’s education from school to university there is some form of 3rd party observation of lessons and a judgement is made to identify the areas of best practice and areas for development (or whatever terminology a particular institution uses) of the lesson. This has internal and external uses for an institution, through the process of Performance Management of staff and the independent observation and classification of educational establishment in England and Scotland by The Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) respectively. Recent policy developments (DfE, 2012 and Ofsted, 2012) have shown a move to use OTL with even more scrutiny and use the data acquired from it to monitor and judge the teaching and learning that takes place in individual teacher’s lesson all the way up to a whole institution. The Department for Education (DfE) even states in the Frequently Asked Questions section for the new regulations on Appraisal and Capability that:

“The most successful education systems in the world are characterised by high levels of lesson observation.” (DfE, 2012a)

As a teacher of over 10 years standing who has experienced a wide range of different educational establishments, one of the common threads throughout these varied experiences has been how OTL takes place; through the graded lesson observation on one lesson in the year. In this assignment I will be exploring the role of OTL in the institution I currently work in and examining the evidence in the literature as to if the lesson observation policy works as a way to assess the teaching and learning that is taking place at a departmental/institutional level as well as develop individual teachers so that they can do the best for their students.  

For the purposes of this assignment I shall be focussing on the teaching and learning that takes place in a 6th Form College in England, though I feel that the points discussed have relevance for other educational establishments.


Ofsted (2012). A good education for all. [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed 20th January 2012].

Department for Education (2012). Teacher appraisal and capability. [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed 20th January 2012].

Department for Education (2012a). Teacher appraisal and capability – frequently asked questions. [ONLINE] Available at: [Last Accessed 20th January 2012].

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Developing Literacy in Science

So, first day of the summer holiday and I’m in a conference suite above a museum on a training course. I’m a sucker for this sort of thing and anyway it’s about something that I think can help my students; Enhancing Literacy Skills in Science. This is an area I think can always be developed in my teaching and something that I have found a particular challenge this year, as I feel that the level of general literacy of my students has not been great and I haven’t been able to use the methods I usually employ which have worked in other parts of the country as effectively as I wanted. Literacy also got a few mentions in the recent Ofsted report of my college where it was noted:

“In too many lessons teachers do not challenge students sufficiently to provide fuller answers, justify their ideas and use appropriate subject terminology. While some teachers take opportunities to develop literacy and numeracy skills within lessons, too many miss opportunities to develop these skills fully and imaginatively.”

Literacy is therefore a hot topic in the college and even though most of my A Level students will have at least a B in GCSE English they do not have sufficient literacy skills to do the best in the subject. This is of particular concern to me as Head of Biology as it is biology that is the most verbose of the natural sciences.

Here are my notes and thoughts from the course which I am writing up to consolidate and figure out what I want to do next year. The course was split into three sections Developing Talk, Developing Reading and Developing Writing. The idea being that even though it is the writing that most people care about as that what they are going to use in their exams the other two will help develop that too.

Developing Talk

The biggest difference I’ve seen in my students this year is their lack of talk in lessons. Working in Portsmouth and Italy has given me an expectation that students can talk a lot, so having classes full of timid, quiet students this year has been a very unfamiliar experience.

Student talk in lesson can be used to:

  • think through ideas
  • express thoughts and opinions
  • influence or convince other people
  • articulate ideas
  • rehearse thinking and reasoning prior to writing
  • share knowledge
  • feedback and review ideas
  • adapt and refine ideas

Activities that could be used to develop talk:

The overarching theme for this section was about providing students with a definitive statement that they have to discuss. This reminded me of a section in Wiliam, D (2011):

“Asking questions may not be the best way to generate good classroom discussion. Asking which country was most to blame for the outbreak of the World War I invites students to plump for one country or another. If, instead, the teacher makes a statement, such as, “Russia was most to blame for the outbreak of World War I” students seem to respond more thoughtfully because they realise that just agreeing or dissenting is enough – reasons have to be given.”

Face to Face

Get the students in two lines facing each other provide a statement that the students are going to talk about. Give 30 seconds for one row to argue for the statement to the student opposite them then 30 seconds for the other student to counter argue the point. Then rotate one of the rows so that each student is now with someone new. After a couple of rounds of that so students can repeat, refine and enhance their arguments and counterarguments swap the rows round so they are now arguing for the other side.


Provide a list of different items and ask the students to decide which one they think is the best/most important etc. This then leads into a Think, Pair, Share type activity.

Opinion Lines

As an individual, students read a statement and decide where they would place themselves on the ‘Opinion Line’. They then discuss the statement and opinions with others in their group, providing reasons for their opinion. Does their position remain the same?

Opinion Line

As much as this image is nice, I think I’d like to have an Opinion Line that doesn’t have a middle area so students have to place themselves on one side of the fence.

Definite Statements

So these activities require some statements that students can discuss here were some ideas:

  • All smoking should be banned
  • Nuclear Power is the best option for combatting climate change
  • Enzymes are the most important protein
  • Haemoglobin is more important than Collagen
  • Pick the most important organelle of the cell
  • This is the most useful genetic technology
  • Which drug has the worst effect on a person

It would be nice to come up with some of these statements/lists for each topic in the course as these activities could be used in any part of the lesson depending on what you wanted to do.

Build An Answer

Give a long answer type question then provide some keywords that students might want to use in their answer. Students can then discuss what order they would put those words in and what connectives they would use to create a answer. The students could provide suggestions for their own key words that could be added and slowly an answer is built. These words could then be placed on post its so students can write their answer at an individual level. Mini whiteboards could be used and moved about the room to generate answers.

Provide a list of keywords to do with a topic and get the students to write as many statements about that topic as possible. This could be used to test prior knowledge and check for misconceptions.

Inference Grids

In pairs or small groups, students look at the pictures in the centre of the rectangles, They note down everything they can see. Then move on to the next rectangle; trying to make inferences or guesses about how the pictures or texts fit together. In the outer rectangle, they write down what they need to find out to get the whole story.

Inference Grids

Honestly I’m not too sure about this one, I’ll have to have a think about where it could be used. One idea I had was for AQA GCSE ISA practice placing data tables from the source sheet that they need to analyse in Paper 2.

Think Talk Write

Dialogue and Talk are important in the classroom the work of Robin Alexander (2008) gave good effect sizes (if that’s your bag) of Collaboration vs individualistic: 1.03 and Collaboration vs competition: 0.82. Classroom management needs to be kept on the ball to ensure that students are talking about the work and not anything else, but I think that there is scope in some of these activities to get my students discussing science more. This leads to the nice teaching sequence of Think, Talk, Write:
Think Talk Write

Developing Reading

“The ability to read about science with healthy scepticism is a key element of scientific literacy. Moreover it is a pre-requisite of citizenship and playing a part in democracy”

Wellington, J. & Osborne, J. (2001)

Reading isn’t just about knowing the words, it’s about decoding the text into meaning.

“Although… skilled decoding is necessary for skilled comprehension…  decoding is not sufficient in the long term. Despite the plethora of research establishing the importance of teaching comprehension strategies, very little comprehension strategies development occurs schools (Collins, Block & Pressley, 2002, pp. 384–385)”

In Norris et Al (2008)

So we need to ensure students take part in Active Reading in lessons in order to meet the two main challenges in science reading: Technical language (science vocabulary) and The use of logical connectives (needed to express the key abstract underpinning ideas of sequence, chronology and causality) (Wellington  & Osborne, 2001). According to Davies & Greene (1984), Active Reading should have the following elements:

  • a clear sense of purpose
  • generating and testing of hypotheses
  • correction and interpretation of initial interpretations
  • reference to visual and diagrammatic information
  • a coach, who knows the material and tools and closely monitors pupil practice
  • collaboration with other pupils

Reading also needs to be supported at different levels; the word (definitions) the sentence (meaning) and text (context) and so different student activities should be designed to allow all levels to be developed. There is a range of taxonomies of words in science; names, processes, concepts and mathematical words (and symbols) that need to be decoded and understood by students. The correct spelling of these words has seen a big comeback in exams and so students need to be made aware of this and spelling practice might need to be fitted into lessons. I am thinking that providing students with vocabulary books they they slowly fill in with keywords and definitions may be a good way of helping the students next year.

The use of textbooks to help students in their reading sounds like a good place to start, however it seems like this is not the best idea as the reading age of textbooks are often two/three years below that of the students age ( while exams are written at the expected reading age of the students and they are struggling to read them. (Daily Telegraph and BBC News Online, 2012). If we want students to be able to write complicated sentences then they must be able to read complicated sentences. After tweeting this I was given a link to work of Jeanne Chall (see Acknowledgements) who in her 2002 book The Academic Achievement Challenge: What Really Works in the Classroom? where she summarised her research into textbook difficulty in The United States of America looking at the decline in textbook difficulty from the 1950′s to the 1970′s and that those students who used the more challenging textbooks did better in the SATs than those that used easier to read texts. Her continual research into the mid 1990′s show no improvement in the reading difficulty of textbooks. Another reply to my tweet (see Acknowledgements) gave me an article by William J. Bennetta, A Dumbed-Down Textbook Is “A Textbook for All Students” which criticises publishers for creating textbooks that are for the least able in the class (his language is rather more direct “dimwits” and ” backward students and dullards”)

Though I haven’t found anything that specially looks at A Level textbooks, I can’t help but assume that this same reading age issue is present at Post-16 too. Even if it isn’t my students are most likely used to reading textbooks at a much lower reading level so the jump up to A Level must be bridged in a supportive way so all students can access the material and then I can ensure that materials I use in lessons provide enough of a reading challenge for students so that they can improve their reading.

A Strategy for Shared Reading

Here we look to The KeyStage 3 National Strategy materials, which in retrospect were pretty good. They turned up just as I was starting teaching and I haven’t really thought about them much since I left the 11-16 sector, however I seem to remember someone (a lecturer maybe) saying that along with CASE (Cognitive Acceleration in Science Education) the KS3 National Strategy Materials were a few of the interventions that were actually shown to work at improve students’ understanding. Luckily due to the wonders of the internet if you’ve never had a look at the materials they are all available here:

A sequence for shared reading in science could go like this:

  • Text is on a slide so that students and teacher can look at this together
  • Teacher gives an overview of the text and the techniques used
  • Specialist vocabulary will have been taught before reading and is highlighted in the text
  • Teacher reads the text aloud, encouraging students to follow this
  • Features of the text are highlighted – type, purpose, audience, voice, language
  • Teachers and students annotate the text together

Students may need help on how to skim/scan read if it is a long piece of text and using techniques for verbal discussion will also help decode the reading. Vocabulary will need to be looked at as required and students will need guidance on how to highlight/annotate the text.

If pupils are to comprehend, i.e. create meaning from text, they need to engage, make decisions, try out ideas, talk, organise, infer, deduce – approaches which are not included in traditional reading comprehension exercises. Engagement will involve a high level of challenge, collaboration, conversion of information from one form to another and metacognition; it might involve activating prior knowledge and thinking, and scaffolding.

Active reading strategies, including Directed Activities Related to Text (DARTs) are intended to help pupils make active use of a text, not simply remember, regurgitate or rehash it. This puts the onus on the teacher to ensure that; students need to use their skills of inference and deduction in order to extract meaning (this will sometimes mean modifying a text – cutting it up, reordering it, leaving parts out) and students have a real reason to carry out the task (such as solving a problem) – they have to make decisions and so they have to engage with the text. There needs to be a real reason to collaborate (such as having to come to a consensus), active reading is often collaborative. Strategies to be used such as: skimming, scanning, close reading, organising, prioritising and justifying are made explicit. Above all, students need to actively engage with the topic and the text.

For students to become engaged, the reading task must:

  • Have a purpose (a real outcome that involves using the text and perhaps changing the form of information or ideas)
  • Be challenging (often the format in text books does all the hard work: organising the information, underlining key words, etc.)
  • Be collaborative: most of us work better and develop our thinking when we can try out ideas on others and receive feedback – this is particularly true of EAL learners
  • Involve metacognition: thinking about thinking – or considering the skills that were useful in carrying out the task. It is important to allow time for pupils to review the thinking skills they have used
  • Convert ideas/information: in order to take ownership, the pupils need to change the information into a form that suits the purpose.

It might also involve:

  • Activating prior knowledge or thinking: finding ‘a way in’, a picture to discuss, a thought shower, speculation about one small part of the text
  • Scaffolding: complex tasks such as problem solving make great demands on a novice.
  • A grid, or pre-teaching of certain categories can help the students to focus on one thing at a time.


There are two main types of DART: reconstruction of text or analysis of text. I’m guessing the most used DART is a classic fill in the blanks (cloze) passage but it’s good to be reminded that there are other ways that students can interact with text:

DARTS Summary

I have used the Reconstruction side much more than the Analysis side, this is something I should work on next year. I think using Biological Sciences Review and Biology FactSheets ( would be an excellent source of text that should challenge students.

The text can be analysed in three possible ways according to Wood et Al (1992) in Wellington,J. & Osborne, J. (2001)

  • literal – searching for words, statements which appear in the text
  • interpretive – understand and interpret the text e.g in order to make inferences
  • applied – apply this comprehension of the text e.g in evaluating evidence or making comparisons

One of the key ideas that I got from the course was how much guidance the students need when working on literacy activities. I suppose just like with their maths skills, it is assumed by science teachers that students can just transfer skills and ideas from one lesson to the next, which really isn’t do-able. A lot of the literacy techniques the students have done before in English but unless they are reminded that they have done them before, guided through the activity and familiar terminology is used then they will not get the most out of the lesson. 

By ensuring that students are talking and reading well in lessons then that means when they come to writing they should be able to apply their knowledge and skill in a more productive way. As when it comes down to it, the writing is the aspect of literacy that matters the most in science education as that is how they are assessed in the exams.

Developing Writing

Research completed by Professor Lynne Cameron  for Ofsted highlighted the following weaknesses in writing:

  • At text level, Students are not clear about the different text types used in science. They often fail to structure and organise their writing.
  • At sentence level, their writing lacks detail and they can’t express their ideas clearly
  • At word level, their writing lacks a range of vocabulary and punctuation errors are common

Though these conclusion were originally for advanced EAL students the research sample had been in the UK education system for an average of 10 years, and had therefore had most of their schooling in the UK, these writing errors persisted to Key Stage 4. These errors are also common weaknesses for many pupils whose first language is English.

Therefore at these levels students need guidance and practice so that they can improve. At a word level students need to be able to spell accurately and use key words appropriately. At sentence level, they must be able to  construct meaningful sentences using the keywords, the correct use of abstract models as well as using complex writing techniques such as subordinate clauses. . There are many different types of text in science writing so students need to be able to write well constructed paragraphs to persuade, evaluate, analyse, discuss (argue), inform, explain, recount and instruct. These different text types have different levels of demand. Most students can explain, recount and instruct, but the higher mark questions towards the end of exam papers require them to be able to evaluate and discuss complex issues often relating them to a new context.

Differences between the Sciences?

Even at GCSE the difference between the writing requirements of the three natural sciences can be seen. The Summer 2012 AQA Higher Papers were analysed for command word frequency, the results are shown below.

Question Command Words

The ability to explain things correctly is much higher in Biology whereas the calculation aspect of Physics is key and Chemistry seems to have a big question requiring evaluative writing. It would be interesting to expand this analysis to Foundation GCSE papers and look across the exam boards and more years as well as see if the patterns are similar or different at A Level.

A Sequence for Teaching Writing

  1. Establish clear aims: what is the purpose of the writing that is being done?
  2. Provide example(s): this could be student work if long answer exam questions or sourced from the internet if looking at journalism or other forms of written communication.
  3. Explore the features of the text: students work on their own/small groups so they can…
  4. Define the conventions: what commonalities can be found in the exemplar text?
  5. Demonstrate how it is written: Teacher led construction of an opening paragraph/section so that the class…
  6. Compose together: the first part of the writing, this enables a….
  7. Scaffold the first attempts: to be made.
  8. Independent writing: students work on their own to produce their own work. Good examples can then be shared with the class in order to…
  9. Draw out key learning: go over some students work, maybe with the use of a visualiser on the interactive whiteboard so that all can…
  10. Review: looking back at what was required and if the work produced meets the initial aims.

I think I can speak for most science teachers when I say that usually I start with number 1 and go straight to number 8. No wonder students find writing hard if they are not given the opportunity to see examples of good and not so good writing and help co-construct the success criteria before picking up a pen. I think some teachers might worry about the amount of lesson time that this sequence would take up when there is so much content to cover, however I think that there is no reason why a piece of extended writing of different styles could be used as the summative assessment task instead of an end of topic test. Only if students are given the time to write scientifically will they improve. I think I shall look into getting some students’ papers back from the summer exams so I have examples of writing in the long answer questions. Teacher generated ‘student answers’ are usable but nothing compare to the real thing.

Long Answer Questions

When preparing students for the long answer questions at GCSE and A Level they need to be given guidance on how to decode the question. Teaching them and giving them support and practice in: Identifying key words in the question, Planning the required structure of the answer and Using good literacy techniques to write is key so they can gain as many marks as possible.

Highlighting/circling command words and keywords in the question is always a good idea in the exam, students are allowed highlighters and I’ve often read in Examiners Reports that scripts often do not have any student annotations in which could be used to assist them in their answers. Good literacy techniques some with practice and by also reading work that has good literacy techniques in. When it comes to planning an answer students can often find the blank page an intimidating so the following method looks like a good way to get the students through the steps required to answer a long questions.

Divide a piece of paper into 4:

  • Section 1 (4mins): Write down as many keywords as you can think of that you might want to use in your answer.
  • Section 2 (4mins): Draw any pictures/diagrams that you think might help with your answer e.g. particle diagrams, equipment, structures
  • Section 3 (5mins): Write down some sentences that you think you might want to use in your answer. Don’t worry about the order/sequence.
  • Section 4 (5mins): Construct a full answer ordering your sentences in a suitable sequence.

Long Answer Template

This whole activity can take 15-20mins which the students do not have in the exam, but with practice they should be able to refine their technique so they can write good long answers when it comes to the real thing.

In order to get the best writing marks students need to be able to write well. The use of connectives is one of those things that many struggle with here are a few that might help if used as a ‘placemat’


As before, sharing success criteria with the students is key in making sure they are going along the right lines. Here is what’s required for the long answer questions: Students…

  • Show a sound knowledge and understanding of the subject area
  • Use a wide range of key words accurately
  • Answer in continuous prose
  • Organise information clearly, putting points in a logical order and linking them together
  • Use all the information provided to give a clear and detailed answer to the question
  • Have faultless spelling, punctuation and grammar

In Conclusion

With the upcoming changed to the KS3 and 4 National Curriculum, I think that students will be required to answer science questions with well written long answers showing a high level of literacy. It is important that science teachers are able to assist students in developing their literacy. The students know enough science to be able to pass the exam but it is their writing that is letting them down. The best thing we can do as science teachers is develop students talking, reading and writing so that they can communicate what they know clearly and accurately.

It is important that any literacy activity is not slotted in abstractly into the lesson/scheme of work. Ideally the activity should be there to help deliver knowledge as well as the literacy skill. Embedding these ideas into lessons will ensure that the focus of the lesson is on the science and all the extras complement the work so that students can develop and progress. My plan is to make sure that every week there is some kind of speaking, reading or writing activity in my lessons so that students have ample opportunity to practice. It is clear that as well as the usual collaboration with Maths Departments with Science to ensure commonalities in equations, graphing and data analysis, links with the English Department need to be developed so that the correct language of literacy is used so that students are comfortable with what is happening in their science lessons. As a Biology teacher I think that this is a high priority.


Dialogic Teaching Essentials: Robin Alexander
Education as Dialogue: Robin Alexander
GTC Research for Teachers: Effective classroom talk in science
GTC Research for Teachers: Improving learning through cognitive intervention


Alexander, R.J. (2008) Towards Dialogic Teaching: rethinking classroom talk (4th edition), Dialogos

Bennetta, W.J. (1997) A Dumbed-Down Textbook Is “A Textbook for All Students”, The Textbook Letter, May-June, Retrieved from: (last accessed 18th July 2013)

Chall, J.S. (2002) The Academic Achievement Challenge: What Really Works in the Classroom? New York: The Guildford Press (Available at:

Davies, F. & Greene, T. (1984) Reading for Learning in the Sciences, Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd (available at:

Johnson, C. & Johnson K. (n.d.) Reading Ages of school Science text-books in the UK, Retrived from: (last accessed: 18th July 2013)

Norris et Al (2008) Learning to read scientific text: Do elementary school commercial reading programs help? Science Education. 92(15), 765–798

Ofsted (2003) More advanced learners of English as an additional language in secondary schools and colleges, HMI 1102, Available at (last accessed 18th July 2013)

Ofsted (2003) Writing in English as an additional language at Key Stage 4 and post-16, HMI 1094, Available at (last accessed 18th July 2013)

Paton, G. (2012, November 16th) GCSE pupils ‘struggling to read exam papers’ Daily Telegraph. Retrieved from: (last accessed: 18th July 2013)

Richardson, H. (2012, November 16th) Many teenagers ‘can’t read GCSE exam papers’ BBC News Online. Retrieved from: (last accessed: 18th July 2013)

Wellington, J. & Osborne, J. (2001) Language and literacy in science education (p42) Buckingham: Open University Press

Wiliam, D. (2011) Embedded formative assessment (p.84-85). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press


Enhancing Literacy Skills in Science: Course Materials written by Martin Reece

Twitter links provided by:

Posted in ASE Chat, Science Education Research, Teaching, Thoughts | Leave a comment

Student Influences in Science (TV)

A couple of news stories caught my eye last weekend, both from The Guardian, both featuring Professor Brian Cox, both about science television programmes. I suppose I should begin by stating for the record that I really like television and have watched many a science tv documentary and tried to use clips to help illustrate concepts in my lessons.

I tweeted about the two stories and received a few replies asking for some more information and references.

The interview that these news stories come from can be seen here:

I have looked into student influences in choosing science A Levels for a small research project that I carried out for an MSc unit on Research Methods in Education the results of which I have published before on this blog. The references for my assignment that I used for my background research are here:

Havard, N. (1996). Student attitudes to studying A-level sciences. Public Understanding of Science, 5(4). 321-330 doi: 10.1088/0963-6625/5/4/002

James, K. (2007). Factors influencing students’ choice (s) of experimental science subjects within the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme. Journal of Research in International Education, 6(1). 9-39 doi: 10.1177/1475240907074787

Pike, A. & Dunne, M. (2011). Student reflections on choosing to study science post-16. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 6(2). 485-500 doi: 10.1007/s11422-010-9273-7

These papers among others were used for the Wellcome Trust’s Systematic Review:

Newman, M., Bangpan, M., Tripney, J. (2010). Factors Influencing Young People (Aged 14-19) in Education about STEM Subject Choices: A systematic review of the UK literature, Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Co-ordinating Centre (EPPI-Centre). ISBN 978-1-84129-087-4 Available at (

This review’s conclusion that only 12 studies were of medium to high quality and they examined Gender, Ethnicity and Ability.

I didn’t discover this Wellcome Trust Education Research until after my assignment was handed in but this one specifically does look at student influence of television as well as other views on science education.

It can be read here:

The most interesting quote from this for me on the influence of science television is this:

“Several young people in the current study reported watching factual science-related
television programmes, although they did add the qualification that they might do so
because nothing else was on, or because they did not realise it was a science

From my own personal experience this quote rings true. When I ask my students if they’ve seen anything good on television recently for example Bill Bailey’s excellent two parter on Alfred Russel Wallace I get a silence from a group of 18 year olds, many of which are very soon going to go to university and study science based degrees.

In The Wellcome Trust’s recent review of Informal Learning there is a discussion about the role of informal learning. It used to be thought that the role of informal learning was to support the formal learning of schools, but since we spend more time in informal learning environments in our lives then really it should be the other way round.

I think that the two areas of television and education need to work together more, I would love to see science tv take more a role in the education of students but under the guiding arm of teachers who know how students learn science, what they are interested in and have the skills in communicating science to that audience that allow them to learn. There is a problem that the science curriculum we have at the moment makes students uninterested in the subject soon after they start secondary school. For many students the KeyStage 3 deep is something they do not recover from and they are lost to science. We need a curriculum that not only allows student to learn the key principles of science but gives them the opportunity to develop their skills essential for being a scientist and think creatively about the subject so they can be an effective citizen in an ever scientific and technological world.

Posted in Science Education Research, Teaching, Thoughts | Leave a comment

F211 & F214 Marks Analysis Sheet

Here are two word files that can be used with the information on the OCR Interchange that mean you can mail merge the student January exam data so each one can have a summary of what they got for every question in the exam. For the students who are resitting it gives them an idea of what topics they did well on and not so well on and for all students it helps them identify the types of question they may have struggled with.

I think it’s important to stress to students the number of ‘Recall’ questions that there are in the exam. For just knowing the basic facts of Biology (name, state, identify etc) they can get almost all the marks required to pass the exam.

First thing you need to do is get the raw data:

Login to the OCR Interchange (ask your exams officer for a login if you don’t have one)

Click on Active Results in the Results Section of the Toolbar on the right.


Click on Unit Reports


For the Unit you are interested in e.g. F211 select the All Candidate Item Marks Report from the drop down menu and click on View This Report


You can then export all the data to an Excel file


The data in the OCR file is a bit clunky so here is a simple Excel File for F211 and F214 that you can paste the data into.

F211 Jan 13 Results

F214 Jan 13 Results

You can then use these word files to Mail Merge the data. I have set up the work files so that the headings for the excel files above link into them.

F211 Marks Analysis Jan 13

F214 Marks Analysis Jan 13

You can then print off the whole lot and give them out to students.

examresultsexampleThis student got a D, if they had answered ‘Electocardiogram’ for Q1bi then they would have got a C. If they then answered the Maths question (Q2bi) correctly, written ‘Partially permeable membrane’ for Q3a and correctly stated what is meant by Cell Signalling for Q3ci they would have got a B.

This data is available for AQA and Edexcel too so should be adaptable for whatever exam you do.

Hope this is useful.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment