Research in education is great…until you start to try and use it.


One reason that I’ve been interested in education research in the past couple of years is because, by luck/coincidence it mainly supports what I already do. I’ve been setting quick 1-5 recap quizzes for years, well before I read cognitive science research on the positive impact of retrieval practice. I’ve not really done much to change how I teach yet it ‘works’ with the research.

However, it’s not always as simple as confirming what you already do. Research in education is a minefield. Might it be better to leave well alone?

Here is a (not comprehensive) summary of why using research is problematical:

1.Not enough specific research has been done for context specific conclusions

In the EEF ‘A marked improvement’ publication on marking, the authors make the following comment, very early on:

‘The quality of existing evidence focused specifically on written marking is low. This is surprising and concerning bearing in mind the importance of feedback to pupils’ progress and the time in a teacher’s day taken up by marking. Few large-scale, robust studies, such as randomised controlled trials, have looked at marking. Most studies that have been conducted are small in scale and/or based in the fields of higher education or English as a foreign language (EFL), meaning that it is often challenging to translate findings into a primary or secondary school context or to other subjects. Most studies consider impact over a short period, with very few identifying evidence on long-term outcomes.’  p5

This is true for many areas of teaching yet teachers and schools are being encouraged to use research more.

If I work in a coastal school, with majority white, FSM boys, will any research be directly applicable to my context?

Is it just a waste of time with the current lack of useful and applicable research?

  1. It can go against our instincts

In ‘Make it stick’, The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III and Mark A. McDaniel, they make a point about interleaved practice and teacher discomfort:


Teachers prefer for themselves and their students to feel comfortable as they learn. Clearly some research informed practice won’t always ‘feel’ comfortable.

3.Ofsted may not agree

Ofsted have previously commented on what they see and think ‘works’, not always what research may suggest is the case. There are examples in Ofsted reports that make a statement on something that a school is doing that may not correlate with research. In recent years, as research has become more prominent, comments in some cases have declined especially in cases where practice has been ‘debunked’ and Ofsted have attempted to make it what they are aren’t looking for when inspecting. Should inspectors continue to make  judgements from their collective or personal view or would it mean that reports would be impossible to write?

And perhaps more controversially, should an Ofsted team comment on a school that is actively going against what research points to as being effective?


Is the issue here consistency or that research may not support it?

4.It’s not always convenient for leaders

One reason why so many schools have been reluctant to ditch grading lesson observations (even though evidence shows they’re unreliable to consistently make valid judgements) is not because they think grading is a valuable tool for teachers but a perfect system for a spreadsheet.

5.It doesn’t support a school’s priorities

Schools that want to prioritise English and Maths in the curriculum will not be interested in research that suggests that the Arts or Philosophy might help learning, even when there might be evidence that they can benefit English & Maths. The political gaming of league tables will always mean that leaders want what seems to be more direct action such as giving more curriculum time to core subjects.

  1. It’s not the way we’ve always done it

Teachers can be habitual. We like to teach in a way that we know, even if it isn’t hugely successful; we are reluctant to change. It’s comfortable to stick with the way we’ve always done things.


Who cares if research has a better way?

7.We can cotton pick what we want…

The EEF toolkit rates ‘peer tutoring’ as having a positive possible effect. I could see this and tell my staff ‘I want to see ‘peer tutoring’ in all your classes because that will enhance learning by ‘+5’ months.

However, the evidence behind this summary wouldn’t support this action. It specifies that the tutoring is most effective with cross-age tutoring, with two years between the students. That wouldn’t be the case in one class in the UK.

And crucially it also states:

‘Peer tutoring appears to be less effective when the approach replaces normal teaching, rather than supplementing or enhancing it, suggesting that peer tutoring is most effectively used to consolidate learning, rather than to introduce new material.’

Research in the wrong hands and with superficial or no in-depth analysis can be dangerous….

8…And ignore what we don’t like

I don’t like teaching using group work. I’ll ignore any research about its possible learning benefits.

9.Research suggests…..

Even in the EEF toolkit each intervention has a list of caveats. Nothing is simple. Looking at the effect sizes is one way but even that is full of complications.  All we can ever say is that ‘Research suggests….’ and always present it with the scepticism that it deserves.

Should we be directing teachers how to teach using research that can, at best, make suggestions of what might work?

  1. Sources contradict each other

Read any literature review and you will almost certainly find a variety of previous papers that have different and often contradictory findings. Interpretation bias can also make a difference. You can pretty much use research to prove or disprove your point if you want to.

As a leader, would you reduce class sizes or not?


EEF Toolkit & Hattie’s effect sizes (0.4 is seen as the point where something ‘makes a difference’)

11.It’s not what we want it to be

Research on classroom displays suggests that, especially for younger children, too much stimulation can hinder learning yet in primary schools across the country teachers spend hours on colourful bordettes, elaborate scenes and ‘welcoming’ boards.

Whilst there is research that some targeted displays can actually accelerate progress they may not be the wonderfully creative and attention grabbing scenes that some teachers love to construct.

Sources & references

How to get students to evaluate – Teaching by concepts & transferring knowledge


The new GCSEs are providing a challenge for many teachers especially in Religious studies. One of the many challenges is that there is more evaluation (some legacy specs were void of this). Many teachers have gone for teaching a superficial type of evaluation that often resorts to using a mnemonic for students to use for every question. I don’t have issues with mnemonic buts the ones I’ve seen don’t seem to get at the heart of evaluation. They encourage students to provide arguments for and against and then come to a personal conclusion. In my opinion, that isn’t true evaluation. I understand that this may be seen as useful for lower attaining students but does it allow the higher attaining students to show high level evaluation and does it prepare for A level?

From day 1 of deciding the new specification we’d follow, I’ve been pondering using key concepts for teaching and consequently evaluating the quality/strength of the concepts instead of the for/against arguments.

Key concepts

I’ve debated with myself and other colleagues what to call these. I’ve even asked the students. I keep coming back to ‘concepts’ although ‘themes’ and ‘ideas’ were mooted.

A key concept is a core belief or position that is the key point in a given argument. It is the ‘thing’ that is contentious and debatable. It’s the core idea that makes an argument arguable.

A simple example of concepts in the fox hunting argument would be:

  • Animal rights
  • Dominion over creation
  • Human traditions

You could then use these three concepts to argue for and against fox hunting and include a variety of views on each concept. At the end of each concept it is possible to pull together the various opinions and summarise which argument is more valid/strong/useful in the overall argument. The structure of argument lies in the concepts not for or against arguments.

At the end of the argument, instead of an opinion on the issue from the writer, it is an overall judgment of the quality/validity/strength of the concepts within the argument. One crucial point of the new specs, in my opinion is to move away from personal valued judgements to critical thinking and logical conclusions. No A level or high level essay requires personal opinions. I believe we need to start the process of academic writing in key stage 4. Students can give their personal opinions on an issue in lessons but in my class, not in their exam answers.

This is clearly more complex but much more of a true evaluation of the key arguments.

My thoughts are that this structure will allow the top students to access the top levels with more independence and flair than just using a mnemonic but it also means that the lower attaining students can ‘fall back’ on a simpler version of for/against, which is all they will need.

How to teach concepts

First of all I’ve introduced the students to what we’re calling a concept. I used a very simple, non-subject specific model: Pizza vs burger. This meant even those with limited conceptual understanding could access the idea. We looked at what the concepts for this argument might be, how we could strike the argument and how the intermediate and final evaluations might look. I gave them a structured template to use. They then chose their own topic and followed the same process, all the time being non-subject specific. To me it was important they understood what concepts and evaluation meant before applying to complex content.

In terms of lessons and teachings I am mixing the fors/againsts with concepts. I try to regularly ask ‘what might be an important concept in this?’,  to get them generating ideas and applying the skill of identifying them. In this way, they can always ‘fall back’ on the simple for/againsts.

This first map shows the traditional way of teaching by belief/religion:

Whilst links can be made, many times, the core arguments in the debate might not be pulled together.

However with the concept example, views can be compared and contrasted by concept and then used as paragraphs within the argument:


At a recent gathering of RE teachers we discussed this question:

Colleagues lamented that their students wouldn’t be able to answer this as they could probably argue about prayer but wouldn’t be able to link it to an understanding of God. They didn’t think their students would also be able to identify other ways of understanding God.

In my opinion this is down to how you teach. If you do a lesson on prayer, a lesson on worship, a lesson on the bible and a lesson on Church leaders a student may not have the skill to synthesise these to apply to the question. But if you start this series of lessons with the question ‘How do Christians understand God?’ and evaluate each way on its effectiveness/pros/cons then they will be able to evaluate this question more easily.

The key to this is planning. Instead of planning a scheme by the topic elements, we need to plan with concepts. The lessons will be very similar but students will need to be asked to make links and identify the key concepts that these elements contribute to.

Knowledge transfer 

This structure also limits ‘box’ learning. I often hear colleagues saying ‘my students get mixed up if I don’t teach them as the structure of the exam’. Concept teaching pervades this notion of learning an element for a certain aspect of an exam. If a student has a clear understanding of the key concepts behind the beliefs and teachings they will be able to draw on this huge range in their answers, they won’t rely on rote answers/phrases. Their understanding will go from many individual elements of topics to concepts that interlink to make a whole ‘story’ that, in the case of religious studies makes a religion and it’s beliefs and teachings. This idea of making connections is important for learning.

In the case above, sanctity of life doesn’t just belong with euthanasia but also with abortion and capital punishment etc. They can transfer knowledge from one area to another with accuracy.

My next challenge is to pick out these key concepts in advance so I can be sure we cover all the possibilities.

Further reading

This blog from Lee Donaghy has been the first I’ve seen of others following a similar structure (he’s called them ‘abstract generalisations’, a term borrowed from @jcarrollhistory.) so I was very excited to read how it’s being done in History. It gave me confidence we’re doing the right thing.

This site is  great for suggesting how students can transfer and apply knowledge

A blog on ‘The Secret to Creativity, Intelligence, and Scientific Thinking: Being Able to Make Connections’

Structured revision lessons using retrieval, spacing & interleaving


The problem with many revision classes is that many teachers think that students can suddenly self organise and self motivate. This is rarely the case. Last year I trialled a revision lesson structure and blogged on it here- Using research to design a revision session. The feedback from students was positive and I believe these had impact on their final weeks of learning before the exams. We use it for every lesson now and they can also use the structure for their own revision sessions. It’s based on cognitive science principles of retrieval, spacing and interleaving.

However, I wanted to improve the structure further this year. Here is the new structure:


Over the series of lessons, each topic is covered a minimum of 3 times. First it is in a review, then next lesson that topic is the exam question and the lesson after it it the marking task. This is the spacing as determined by when I see them. So it might be 1 day, 3 days or 3 days, 1 week.

The students have already completed a survey telling me which topics they are confident in or not. An analysis of these highlights to me which topics most students need to cover in the remaining lessons.


I then went through the structure with them to explain how it works and why I’ve interleaved the topics. Each colour represents a different ‘topic’ within the spec. So in one lesson they can be covering up to 5 topics, depending on which they give me for ‘Challenge Miss Cox’. This is the interleaving; one lesson isn’t one topic but up to 5 topics.

Each section has a purpose:

  • Exam question – retrieve from memory, exam timing, exam question structure
  • Marking last question – retrieve from memory, application of mark scheme, empathy for markers (reading other people’s handwriting, unclear wording, unclear format etc)
  • Review of content – subject knowledge, deliberate repetition and conscious effort to remember
  • Transform – retrieve from content review, change format of info e.g dual coding
  • Quotes quiz – retrieve, repetition
  • Challenge Miss Cox – ‘perfect’ exam question structure, exam timing, meta cognition as I explain

For the transform section, I go through this PowerPoint with them. It’s up to them how they transform, but it absolutely isn’t a folding or colouring session.

This year I have added two more features. I initially added the ‘Challenge Miss Cox’ section as there are still some students that aren’t structuring their answers in a manner that makes their work clear to the examiner. I’ve done this a couple of times now but need suggestions of what they can do whilst I’m doing it. They could write it out but they will have done lots of writing in the lesson and I’d rather they watch me but some can’t concentrate for 6 minutes without nattering. Suggestions welcomed.

After this, I realised that they need more support with some Islamic quotes so I put in the quiz. It will be the same quizzes repeated over and over. They will be fill in the gaps exercises maybe mixed between paper and quizlet. This puts less pressure on them remembering the whole thing when I’ve asked them to retrieve a lot already in the session.

Before they leave in the summer, I will ask them to review the process so I can tweak for next year.

Homework continues to be online multiple choice quizzes – example.

Year 11 interventions, holiday ‘revision’ sessions & the alternatives 


I’ve blogged about the need to ditch the idea of revision and how I think that learning should be specially planned and should start from day 1, but haven’t written my commonly tweeted thoughts on interventions.

Many secondary schools put in intervention in year 11. A teacher, or leaders, suddenly decide to do something about the students that haven’t been attaining or progressing as they should. It usually involves making things easier for the student and making life more difficult for the teacher.

My criticisms

We already know 

I invigilated a year 8,exam hall, controlled assessment style exam the other day. If you give me a list of those names, I could probably tell you who’ll be targeted for ‘intervention’ in year 11. The results of that assessment will probably also tell you who would be on the list. We already know, very early on in secondary, who has the potential not to make ‘expected’ progress. Why do we leave doing anything about it until year 11?

Staff pressures

These sorts of interventions put unnessecary pressure on staff to give up their own time. Whether it be a PPA, break time, after school or their holiday, it is unacceptable for teachers to feel they must do these sessions. Where SLTs direct them to do it is morally and professionally irresponsible.

Lack of responsibility 

These sessions make students ‘feel’ as though they are doing something and many will then justify the session, so they don’t do anything else. They expect staff to do this for them. It’s their excuse for not doing anything else.

It undermines learning and attitudes in lessons

If we allow students to think there will be after school revision for what they didn’t understand or didn’t do, it reduces the motivation for them to try hard in lessons. Lessons, homework and independent study must be the focus for learning.

It promotes cramming 

Sadly, cramming works. We’ve all done it. But as long as we keep doing it:

  • students won’t learn about learning over the long term
  • SLTs will attribute it to any success (false cause)
  • if we teach KS5, they won’t remember content from KS4.

Why do we get to this stage?


One key reason is that so many teachers and leaders see learning as a lesson, a unit, that has to be planned with activities, not a process of logical steps.

Take the new GCSE. Teachers were eager to plan schemes, lesson resources,find text books and look for grade boundaries. Key factors were time and money. Few planned for learning. And some that discussed possible models for learning retorted with ‘I don’t have time for that’ or ‘My students will get confused by that’.


If teachers are spending hours on planning and marking throughout the year, it seems they are too busy fulfilling their SLT requirements instead of intervening from day 1. This spring term offers February half term, Easter holiday and a bank holiday’s worth of time. It’s the traditional time to put the favourite form of intervention; revision sessions.

Of course, unless it’s part of a planned stage of retrieval, it’s not really revision. It’s learning. The logic is: the student hasn’t learnt in the past two years of one hour, bitesize chunks, so we’ll compact it all into one day and they will learn it.


Teachers- The exams are near. SLTs are asking for accurate predictions. Every little helps.

SLTS – Overall data doesn’t look good, ‘we’ need to do something…….

The solutions

  • We need to train students. From year 7, we need to train them and provide the structure they need to work with guided independence. For some reason at secondary, we have an unrealistic expectation that a young adult can manage 8-10 different subjects at one time without anything but a homework diary.
  • Early expectations, early consequences. In my department, if a student hands in their books without a title or date or incomplete notes or poor quality work or no homework, they will come at a break time to complete it. This starts day 1 in year 7. All staff have to do this. If not, students will ‘get away with it’ and will not form good habits.
  • Plan curriculum content and schemes to check learning across the weeks/months/years including key diagnostic assessment points. Deal with under achievement at that point.
  • Acknowledge that a teacher’s role isn’t just to teach, it’s to promote & do everything we know is possible to ensure learning. Last minute intervention isn’t promoting learning, it’s promoting cramming.
  • After a term of year 7, subjects to go through a simple but strategic process of analysis and diagnosis – who seems to be struggling? Why? HODS then meet with teachers to identify specific student needs. These can be a range of things e.g SPAG, presentation, comprehension, listening skills, behaviour, attitude to learning, completion of homework etc Those with an identified need are then allocated one action.
  • With students that are identified across subjects a team of people including SENCO, pastoral team/head of year/head of progress are to decide a core strategy of support. I’m not talking about pages and pages of PSPs, just one simple thing.
  • Check student work regularly (not necessarily marking). Check it for: quality, presentation, meeting expectations, completion. And then, crucially, do something about it. 

Checklist of year 7 ‘intervention’ I’ve used this year:

  • Schemes that support learning using long term memory  – no stakes spaced testing, retrieval, interleaved content
  • Moved seat in seating plan
  • Re-write piece of work
  • Add to work
  • Complete incomplete work
  • Do HW at break time
  • Email/call home
  • Speak to/email student’s tutor/SENCO
  • Answer student queries in class
  • Check student work as they’re working
  • Check books regularly
  • Discussion with student about expectations

None of these have required me to give up hours and hours of my time but make clear my expectations from day 1.

A simple model for meta-cognition in maths (and all other subjects)


Having stated on Twitter that I think that maths has it easy in many ways and concurrently ready ‘Making Good Progress‘ and the chapter on using tests, I thought I’d share an adaptation of what I do in GCSE RS and show how it could be used in maths.

The Theory

Getting students to think about what they got right/wrong and why will help them to understand it and learn from it in the future. This process of ‘meta-cognition’ seems to have a high potential impact on learning.

How I do this in GCSE Religious studies

Once students have done a test, they complete an online form about the test. Example, here. It is a record of their marks for each question and a reflection. This collates all their responses and I get a pre-populated spreadsheet of their results and their individual targets. I can quickly analyse which topics/questions the students have done well or struggled on. I’m also an uber-geek and mail merge their results onto a reflection sheet for their next test.



Possible model for maths

I thought the same could be done in maths but with a reflection for each question after a test.

In order to support the process, you could add a box below each question for them to comment whilst doing the test. This might be particularly useful if they don’t answer a question.



The teacher then needs to create a form that has the questions and the possible pitfalls. It is also a record of what answer they all put.

Here is a sample part of a form.



You have to go through the test with them in some way before they input their data to help them understand why they got things right/wrong.

Alternatives to this might be to not give them options but require them to explain in their own words or only focus on particular questions for feedback.

You might also put the correct and the common incorrect answers as a drop down on the form for them to select. Google forms then has the ability to ‘mark’ the correct answers so your spreadsheet would also have marks e.g 14/20.

They make time to construct but there are ways to save time. Maths teams tend to be quite big; share the load. Or, commit to writing the form as they sit the test. 1 hour test = 1 hour to write the quiz. You can also, to some extent copy and edit these in Google forms. Other platforms have the opportunity to have tagged question banks so you could make generic responses that can easily be reused. Or only get them to reflect on specific questions based on your judgement on what might be useful.

You will need access to electric devices during the lesson for them to access the form. If this is problematical you can get them take turns in class with the devices you do have, whilst the others do their corrections or to do it for homework on their own devices. ( you just need to give them the URL link). I prefer it to be done in class.

Once you’ve established this routine with the students then it becomes easier and second nature to them. They know they will do this after each test.

Potential activities after this are:

  • make corrections in class showing an understanding from where they went wrong
  • to redo the exact same test at a later date (then you can compare outcomes)
  • focus on their incorrect answers for homework and use a programme such as My Maths to watch how they should be done, then re-do the questions



The power of these forms are they  are useful for info on:

  • how they answered each question ( you get a copy of their answer as they’ve inputted it
  • how the class did on each question
  • what they need to ‘revise’/ do further practice
  • what you may need to re-teach
  • their thought process as they answered
  • common misconceptions
  • misconceptions that you might not have thought of

Overall, these forms make tests even more valuable in terms of their formative use.

As you can see I do a similar thing in Religious Studies, so this idea can be adapted fairly simply across all subjects.

Teaching to the test vs Teaching for the test (and beyond)


These thoughts are from an INSET day a few weeks ago when I wanted to focus in our department on ‘What is learning?’. We had some good discussions and one of them was about key stage 4 and GCSE teaching.

I have blogged before on how I ‘Teach to the test‘ by arguing that students need to see exam papers well before they’re faced with one in their final exam.

Our discussions focussed more on the teaching that takes place over the 2/3 years. We came up with two potential models for teaching for GCSE? (For ease I will use hand drawn diagrams – apologies for the presentation/quality)

Model 1 – Teaching to the test


This model is when a teacher only teaches the content of the GCSE. Everything that a student needs to know as a potential exam question is taught. It is often taught in the ‘units’ or ‘modules’ that the exam follows, so student know that today’s lesson on ‘Islam and marriage’ will be in Paper 1, unit 3. They are taught the correct amount and level of knowledge and understanding needed to be able to answer any exam question asked on the topic. In my current spec that is four different teachings. These two elements, subject knowledge and exam structure, fit together neatly.

All students need to know is a minimum of four correct answers to the question. Their notes can follow this format. Revision can be done in nice chunks.

However, if you then asked a student, a question about Islam and divorce, rather than considering the teachings behind these beliefs, they would go to their notes on Islam and divorce and find the four correct points. Whilst there are important connections in teachings between these two, they’d been learnt as a separate ‘chunk’ that few students can transfer knowledge from one to another.

Similarly, if you asked them to compare Christian and Muslim teachings on marriage, they wouldn’t be able to. It’s not an exam question they’ll be asked so they don’t know how to do it. They have no skills beyond what they’ve been taught for the exam.

This is how I’ve taught for a lot of my career. I used to teach compulsory GCSE RS short course on one lesson a fortnight. Imagine if a students was off ill, then it was the Easter holiday. I wouldn’t see them for potential 6 or 8 weeks. It was the only way to teach. They needed to know what could be on the exam. There wasn’t time for anything else.

But most subjects are not in this position. Whilst many teachers will always say they need more time (yet some are happy to waste time on the last day of each term…..) there is enough time to teach. And if you consider secondary school as a 5 year learning process (NOT a 5 year GCSE) then there is time not to resort to ‘teaching to the test’.

Importantly, model 1 works. If they know all the possible questions and all the correct answers, they can do well on an exam.

Model 2 Teaching for the test (and beyond)

I’m not sure this diagram truly depicts this model so hopefully my explanation will do it better.

If we consider our subject to be a minimum of 5 years learning, we can begin to teach beyond the test.

Instead of teaching for what is needed directly for the test, we can teach what is essential for students to understand in our subject to have the ability to answer any question on any topic. (I think some might call this ‘mastery’).

To help explain, I will take the new GCSE RS course. In a bizarre decision, students have to study Christianity, yet there is no requirement for them all to know and understand the Bible. There won’t be any questions in the exam about the Bible. If we were to follow the model above, they would never have a lesson about the Bible. They would have to reference it for its teachings in moral and ethical areas, even know about some miracles but not what it is, how it is formed, and how it is interpreted by different Christians.

So I decided, that I would sacrifice time to do a few lessons on this with them. From this it helped them understand: Biblical interpretations, Christian denominations and crucially why there is not agreement amongst Christians on key moral and ethical issues. Of course, when I get to teach abortion, I would then have to teach them the differing opinions amongst Christians and the biblical references they use to justify their position. But I would then have to do this again for Euthanasia, and war and capital punishment etc etc Instead, giving them a foundation in Biblical interpretations means they can apply it to anything, even topics beyond the GCSE. We’ve given them the foundations to answer any, not just the four possible answers for an exam answer.

This diagram attempts to show this. They may well have the same exam question as in model 1, but because they’ve learnt all the foundations in Islam, they have an array of sources to pull from to write an answer. The focus in this model is learning the essentials in order to be able to apply to all situations. The second circle shows that the same foundations are there for a completely different question, that wouldn’t even be in the exam, but they would be able to have a go at it from their foundation knowledge.

We do, of course, teach them what the exam questions will look like and how to do well in them but in theory, they could take a different exam board specification and equally be able to answer those questions as the basics and foundations are the same for Islam.

The other benefit of this is there is less ‘unit’ or ‘module’ learning. Students don’t learn an answer for unit 3, they apply their knowledge to unit 3. I’ve heard teachers criticise interleaving because their students would get ‘confused’. I’ve even heard stories of their students writing about the wrong concepts in an answer because they had got confused. I strongly believe that in this model, that wouldn’t happen. My students wouldn’t confuse Muhammad’s last speech with what Jesus said on the cross. They know both so well it won’t be confused. Yet they can apply both of these to any context and to any moral/ethical issue. I’ve been interleaving all this academic year and thus far I haven’t had any confusion between key concepts.

This model teaches outside and beyond the exam. It prepares them for A level and beyond, if they choose to.

My students have learnt some Arabic; it’s certainly not in the exam but now they know the root s_l_m they have range of applications in their exam. And they remember it. They remember the core stuff because it’s ‘deep’ and helps to explain some of the unexplainable.

Skeptics of this model will always claim the time issue will prevent them from doing it. There are four responses to this:

1) It doesn’t take up the time you think it does. Because you focus on the core ‘stuff’, it’s the foundations that are needed. No foundation, no independent application.

2) It will work better in the long run. Learn a few things in-depth that apply across the syllabus or lots of things that can only answer one or two questions?

3) You can start students on these core issues before GCSE. I certainly don’t believe we should teach the GCSE in key stage 3 but we can start those foundations.
Using model 2 has changed how I teach GCSE and I also think it makes them better students of religious studies. I know they’ll be going into key stage 5 with a much better grounding of studying religions.

4) Be brave. Change your mindset.

This model can work in any subject but it takes a mind shift away from what is needed for the exam to what learning is needed to understand topic X, that can be applied in any exam.

Oh and I think that model 2 will work….better than model 1.

Recall, recall, recall – how to get students to learn quotes in Religious Studies (and any subject)


As the RS specs have changed, students need more than ever to remember quotes. I thought I’d help colleagues by sharing ideas based on what research suggests is the best way; recall, recall, recall.

  1. Make quote cards from index cards. They can write various things on each side. For example side A ‘give a quote that supports incarnation’ and side B ‘The word was made flesh – John 1’
  2. Make online quizzes – quizlet, google form or if you really have to kahoot (not a fan!) Google example here
  3. Quick quiz 1-5 – ask them 5 quote questions. An easy starter.
  4. Longer quiz – see this fab example that could be adapted from Dave Grimmett. It’s essential that it’s done but individuals, not teams.
  5. Pairs – give a set of pre made cards. Matching pairs. Either match quote and reference or topic and quote or all three!
  6. Songs or rhymes or (ewwww!) raps – as long as they can all ‘sing’ it. It counts as recall.
  7. Wall display memory – I have loads of quotes on my walls. The students look at them and reference them all the time. They look at the wall during tests (here is why I don’t care) They then ‘visualise’ this when in the exam hall and recall the quotes
  8. Student response expectation – when a student is discussing a topic or giving an answer in class, always follow it with “What quote might back that up?”.
  9. Memory palaces – I don’t know much about these except for Sherlock Holmes using them For an explanation see here
  10. Imagine the scene – this could be used well for the narrative parts of the religions  Think what the most important things that were said at that time and imagine how people reacted. Link that to a concept. When it’s time to remember, think of the reaction, then what they were reacting to. e.g Imagine the crowd at Muhammad’s final speech. He told them “Treat your women well”. Some might have been shocked as this hadn’t been the case. So when questioned on an important quote from Muhammad’s speech, it may be easier to remember this quote.

Sample ways of structuring questions:

  • Fill in the blanks – “In the beginning the ________of God hovered over the waters” Genesis 1
  • Link to a paragraph– give a paragraph on a topic – give a question “Which of these 4 quotes could be used to best support it?”
  • Reference question – “what does John 1 say?”
  • Topic link – give them a topic ‘e.g Incarnation’ and they must write down a quote that would support it e.g “The Word was made flesh”
  • Image link – link a concept to an image and they must recall a quote that supports this point e.g picture of Jesus being crucified = “Today you will be with me in paradise”
  • Scene link – as above, “Give a quote from Muhammad’s speech”

When to do the recall?
Any time! Setting quizzes for homework is especially effective as, if you get them to auto mark online, there is no marking for you.


In my opinion, any activity where only one student has to do it is a waste of student time e.g a quiz where one person answers or something like hangman where only person can ‘get it right’. All the class need to be engaging in all the tasks.

When teaching the content in the first instance, make a big thing of the key quote/s. Get them to either have their own quote sheet or highlight in a specific colour so all quotes stand out in their notes.

Identify one juicy quote per concept. E.g incarnation, salvation, predestination. Where possible choose a quote that covers multiple concepts.

Remember to interleave the quotes, don’t just test them on quote recently covered. Mix up with those learnt from the start of the course.

Get the students to create all of these activities. It saves you time but also forces them to all engage with the quotes again.
Leaving it to revision isn’t a good idea. Embed these techniques from lesson 1……in year 7.