Intrinsic motivation in your students – have they got it?


What makes the difference between the students in the UK and those in other countries? This week, whilst the PISA results were published I saw a tweet which said some along the lines of “essentially the difference between the countries comes down to intrinsic motivation”. This got me thinking about whether the students I teach are intrinsically motivated and if not, is there anything I can do about it? Finally, does it actually matter?

Is intrinsic motivation important?

The most successful students in a recent exam were those that had emailed me questions and clarifications before the test. They did this independently. They were worried about the exam. They were bothered. They cared. But was that intrinsic motivation? Unless I speak with them about it I detail I cannot be sure. I need to find out why they did this.

Intrinsic motivation is about the learning process that a student goes through, it isn’t about being motivated to succeed to do well because of a possible reward. It is about enjoyment of learning and what it has to offer. It is separate from being academically successful in that a ‘failing’ student can have high intrinsic motivation.

I watched a fascinating clip on the BBC about students in South Korea. They showed some children who essentially were learning form 8am-11pm every day. They were shattered. They went to normal school and then to private school every day. Why? Because they feel it is the only way that they will be able to get a job when they’re older. Therefore this isn’t intrinsic motivation. It’s extrinsic. It is goal driven motivation. They may be hating the process of learning (and why wouldn’t you if you were doing it for over 12 hours a day!). Yet, has this been interpreted as intrinsic?

Could students from around the world be surveyed on intrinsic motivation, to see which countries have got this right? I assume the PISA data doesn’t record this. But it does raise a question……

Is enjoying learning more important than good results?

I did some small research into what has been already researched in this area and found some fascinating results on what develops intrinsic motivation in children.

Here is a summary of what I have interpreted from the data, and the research findings and references are below.

Implications for practice in schools

  • Consider the rewards system. Don’t reward for the ‘expected’
  • Use verbal praise & sharing of learning to reward
  • Don’t compare students with other students as a method of motivation
  • Be enthusiastic……
  • Don’t tell them you’re doing it for the money!
  • Use progression of ‘grades’ through feedback than just a ‘grade’ itself
  • Relate learning to children’s interests
  • Set high goals and measure students against their own goal
  • Give students autonomy

The research……

‘Reward students to motivate them…but not how you think’
Deci, Koestner and Ryan (2001) conclude that tangible rewards do not contribute to intrinsic motivation and in fact they undermine it, especially in school aged children.The problem is that when rewards aren’t present any longer, the reason to do something, if relying on rewards, have gone.(Covington 1998). The kind of “If someone has to pay me to do this, then it must not be worth doing for its own sake” attitude limits a student’s appreciation of the learning itself. It is only the potential reward that motivates.(Covington 2000)

This is supported by Cameron & Pierce (1994) who found that whilst rewards don’t decrease motivation, verbal praise as a reward does motivate. They found that giving a student a reward for doing the ‘expected’ has a negative effect.

In many cases, rewards in school create a system of ‘winning’ or getting more rewards than your peer, so it is a sense of competition that motivates, it isn’t intrinsic.(Covington 2000) Rewards don’t usually reward the process but the achievement. This goes against being motivated to learn over being motivated to achieve.

Covington (2000) however suggests that ‘pay-offs’ should be more things like the chance to share work or explain to others why their work is important. This kind of ‘reward’ is intrinsically linked to the learning, not the result itself or how they’ve done compared to others.

‘An enthusiastic teacher will motivate students’

Patrick, Hisley & Kempler (2000) found that in a small scale (93 students – 80 women & 13 men!) study that enthusiastic teachers did actually intrinsically motivate students. Other studies have shown that an enthusiastic teacher links with effective teaching.

Patrick et al (2000) even posit that the power of an enthusiastic teacher can awaken the ‘dormant’ intrinsic motivation in a student. This of course then assumes that every student has a dormant motivation, which if true, would mean that if we know how to withdraw it, we can make all students intrinsically motivated.

‘Good grades motivate’

Covington (1999) found that even if grades weren’t high it is possible for students to value learning. Covington (2000) also claims that if a student aims to get high grades just because they want to impress or avoid failure then their value of learning will not be intrinisc. However if a student is improving their grades through having feedback and then implementing it, then they appreciate the learning process itself rather than just a grade.

In contrast Covington (2000) highlights that ‘doing well’ can motivate but so can ‘not doing well’ however this again relates to achievement rather than appreciation of the process to get there.

‘Don’t tell them it’s your job’

Some research (Wild et al 1992) has found that students have more intrinsic motivation if they perceive their teacher to also have it. In one study it found that if a student believed a teacher was volunteering it was more motivating than knowing they were paid to do it. This links with enthusiasm. Unless you’re a great actor, an enthusiastic teacher will be seen to be enjoying themselves and thus be intrinsically motivated.

Deci & Ryan (1991) describe a ‘self determination’ theory which says any social context that promotes an individual’s

“Make it relevant/enjoyable for the student”

Covington (2000) says that if you make the learning relevant and enjoyable for the student they will be more interested in it and this has the potential to combat any negative grades achieved. In fact, it is better in terms of motivation for a student to be personally interested and fail than to succeed but have no interest in it.

Covington (2000) actually suggests running a school around children’s personal interests.

“Make them proud of what they do”

Covington (2000) says that a good grade makes a student feel proud and in turn increases their motivation to learn.

“Set high goals”

Covington (2000) says that a student that has a high goal but doesn’t reach it is more intrinsically motivated to improve than one that is compared to others. This is because competing against others is a ‘personal’ failure in comparison but failing to reach a goal about the goal itself. It’s almost impersonal.

Setting challenging work for students (Csikszentmi- halyi, 1988; Deci & Ryan, 1992)

“Let them take control”

Deci & Ryan, 1987, 1992; Ginsburg & Bronstein, 1993; Grolnick & Ryan, 1989; Ryan & Stiller, 1991 all found that allowing students to be autonomous rather than being controlled showed greater instrincic motivation.

“An ‘academic’ home life makes a student more intrinsically motivated”

Gottfried et al (1998) found this to be true in a longitudinal study. In summary:

“Home environment had statistically positive and significant, direct and indirect paths to academic intrinsic motivation from childhood through early adolescence, indicating both short- and long-term effects across these ages. Moreover, home environment was significant above and beyond SES(Socio-Economic Status). The findings revealed that children whose homes had a greater emphasis on learning opportunities and activities were more academically intrinsically motivated” (p1448)

Does it all matter?

Gottfried (1990) summarises  that intrinsic motivation is positively related to achievement, IQ, and perception of competence. Academically gifted children were found to have more intrinsic motivation to learn.

It also links to persistence, enjoyment, involvement and curiosity.
Benware & Deci 1984, Ryan & Grolnick 1986 found that intrinsic motivation has a significant impact on high quality learning.

Covington (2000) summarises

“students are more likely to value what they are learning, and to enjoy the process, (a) when they are achieving their grade goals; (b) when the dominant reasons for learning are task oriented reasons, not self aggrandizing or failure-avoiding reasons; and (c) when what they are studying is of personal interest.” (p24)


Extrinsic Rewards and Intrinsic Motivation in Education: Reconsidered Once Again

Edward L. Deci, Richard Koestner and Richard M. Ryan
Review of Educational Research , Vol. 71, No. 1 (Spring, 2001), pp. 1-27

“What’s Everybody so Excited about?”: The Effects of Teacher Enthusiasm on Student Intrinsic Motivation and Vitality

 Brian C. Patrick, Jennifer Hisley and Toni Kempler
The Journal of Experimental Education , Vol. 68, No. 3 (Spring, 2000), pp. 217-236

Intrinsic versus Extrinsic Motivation in Schools: A Reconciliation

 Martin V. Covington
Current Directions in Psychological Science , Vol. 9, No. 1 (Feb., 2000), pp. 22-25

Role of Cognitively Stimulating Home Environment in Children’s Academic Intrinsic Motivation: A Longitudinal Study

 Adele Eskeles Gottfried, James S. Fleming and Allen W. Gottfried
Child Development , Vol. 69, No. 5 (Oct., 1998), pp. 1448-1460

Reinforcement, Reward, and Intrinsic Motivation: A Meta-Analysis

 Judy Cameron and W. David Pierce
Review of Educational Research , Vol. 64, No. 3 (Autumn, 1994), pp. 363-423
Academic intrinsic motivation in young elementary school children.
Gottfried, Adele E.
Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol 82(3), Sep 1990, 525-538
Continuity of academic intrinsic motivation from childhood through late adolescence: A longitudinal study.
Gottfried, Adele Eskeles; Fleming, James S.; Gottfried, Allen W.
Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol 93(1), Mar 2001, 3-13.
What motivates children’s behavior and emotion? Joint effects of perceived control and autonomy in the academic domain.
Patrick, B. C., Skinner, E. A., & Connell, J. P. (1993).
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,65, 781–791.

When did teachers start to think that all children can’t succeed?


I regularly see tweets on Twitter proclaiming that “All can succeed” and learning should not be limited for any student and from a few years ago “Every child matters”. To some extent I include any ‘Growth Mindset’ references in this.

These annoy me. I’ve never thought any differently, and I have to assume that all teachers have at some point in their lives, thought the same. I believe that all students in front of me can and will learn whilst in my classroom. No excuses. No growth mindset needed; they will. And everything I do will support this expectation.

 So, it leads me to ask when did some teachers start to NOT believe these things? Why have they been highlighted as so important that teachers are pronouncing them almost as though they are controversial views? When did teachers stop thinking that all the children that they teach can learn/achieve and/or make progress?

We have to start with an assumption; when someone becomes a teacher they think all children are the same in terms of being able to be taught  or at least believe that all students, regardless of any subgroup they may fall in to, can learn.If not, why would you bother becoming a teacher?

I want to consider what might be happening inside education that means that these tweets are favourited a thousand times instead of ignored as a basic principle that doesn’t need a tweet, a bit like “You need to air to breathe”.


I haven’t been involved in teacher training for a while now. Is there something happening in training that is giving teachers the impression that all students can’t learn or achieve? In particular, how are the follow points presented to new teachers?

This term has become a bit of an angst for teachers. It’s developed a sense of foreboding as something than can never be done properly and usually takes hours and hours of time to prepare. Could the concept of differentiation have made teachers believe that because all students are different and we have to cater individually for them, that some cannot achieve? There is no differentiated intervention that will work for every individual?

Use of data

Could the large amount of data teachers are given, give teachers the impression that some children won’t succeed? If they fall into so many categories whether it be SEN, PP, LAC etc, then maybe they are impossible to teach? Or their learning will be limited in some way?

Alternatively, there has been a pressure on teachers to create data to track students and compare progress of groups. This in itself has given the impression that there are groups that aren’t achieving or progressing, rather than looking at individuals. It then follows that if a teacher happens to have a large group of these students in their class, then they may believe that they may not be able to achieve or make progress compared to other students. Has our grouping of students given some teachers the belief that some students aren’t as ‘good’ as others?

The concept of progress

The concept of progress has been skewed and oversimplified into sublevels. At GCSE the notion of probabilities has  dominated what equates to progress, this means other less measurable forms of progress is either not seen by the teacher or in worse cases disregarded by the teacher. This is also blurred by setting “challenging targets” rather than looking at individual students and what their own challenges may be. Sometimes challenging targets see to be more aimed at the teacher to achieve with a class than what an individual student can achieve. Has all of this meant that some teachers don’t see the value of progress achieved by all students in its many forms? If it doesn’t track on a progress spreadsheet then it doesn’t exist or matter? If it isn’t a ‘C’ or above it isn’t worth anything and thus worthless?

Experience of children

Or perhaps these teachers went into teaching believing all students can learn but have been faced with students who don’t seem to want to learn? They don’t seem to want to listen to everything the teacher has to say or do what the teacher tells them to do so, in the teacher eyes cannot learn or be taught.

Vulnerable groups & targeted intervention

Has the practice of intervening with groups of students created its own issues? I remember when I first started teaching that people always spoke about “boys” and how they underachieved and there were courses and books that told you how to redress the balance. Was it the public declaration of these vulnerable groups a self fulfilling prophecy? Did it put into teachers’ minds that boys indeed, could not achieve?


I will admit I love teaching sets but as I’ve previously said I’ve never believed or said these things about students I haven’t allowed the concept of setting to change my practice and beliefs. However is there a chance that some teachers have been influenced by the use of setting so much that they believe that particular sets. Have more chance of learning or are more able to make progress? This is the core argument against setting and may well hold true with those who have the attitudes to achievement and progress I’m arguing against.

Blurring of behaviour with ability to learn

Finally, I think this is a strong contender. Does a child’s behaviour impact a teacher’s perception of whether they can learn or make progress? If a child does not follow what you tell them, do their homework, follow classroom rules then are their learning capabilities prejudged? I’ve seen this happen. Teachers who struggle to control a class conflate this with their learning capability. Is this why many challenging schools, in terms of behaviour also get poor results? 

What’s fun for you may not be fun for me – Why I don’t plan ‘fun’ lessons


“Miss is this going to be a fun lesson?”

Students have asked me this throughout my career. My theory is that they only ask it when they’ve come from a lesson where they have felt it was fun and usually where they did no ‘work’. I may be wrong. Next time I’m going to ask them what they just did the lesson before. It’s never asked period 1 unless it’s the last week of term.

However my response to them is “My fun and your fun are probably two different things”. Being an RE teacher I want them to a)understand that there are different views of what is fun and b) I don’t deliberately plan ‘fun’ lessons. Fun may be a product of the lesson but not the purpose.

Some of you are probably thinking, ‘what a grump!’. Whilst I am a grump I think as teachers we should have it clear what our aims are. We are not entertainers we are teachers. There are plenty of times when students AND I have a laugh. Sometimes several minutes of hysteria when someone says a classic like “Miss, is Africa in Europe?” and “Miss, I’m impotent!” (We were discussing the omnipotence of God).

So fun isn’t avoided or stopped but it certainly isn’t planned for. 

Sometimes people conflate ‘fun’ with ‘engaging’. I think I do plan lessons that I students can access content and engage with it. This comes from my knowledge and experience of children and how their brains process new material. I like to believe that I know what interests them and how I may ‘hook’ them in. However the value of the ‘hook’ must outweigh the use of time; it shouldn’t take more time to use the hook than the potential learning value of it. 

I also suspect that in many cases when they use the word ‘fun’ they mean ‘no work’. That in itself is interesting. They often mean no writing or not using books. This is why I worry when people use writing as a punishment. Is it reinforcing negtivity around written work? I digress…

So overall if you come to my lessons, you will sometimes hear laughter, some times students say ‘that was a fun’ lesson but essentially my job is to ensure that they’re learning. They can plan their fun in their own time.

“Thou shalt not judge” – Lesson observation without judgements


As I’m in the process of moving to a grade-less system I’ve been reflecting on one of the biggest issues I think it is important to deal with; no judging.

There is a difference between not giving a grade and not judging. I’m guessing that lots of schools will essentially carry on judging but just not put a number at the bottom of the page. I’m not convinced that this is the way forward.

The problem is that I, along with many other teachers have only ever experienced someone judging our lessons. There are huge issues with this. Many have blogged about the issues with an observer wanting to see a preferred teaching style. I’ve regularly heard people say ‘X likes group work so I will do group work’ when preparing for an observation. It’s natural to do so.

However I think we need a real shift in our focus of observations, particularly if schools take a coaching model. My belief is that we should ditch any form of judgement. This includes using the language of judgement.

If I say any of these, I am essentially giving MY view, my judgement:

“I liked the starter”

“It was good”

“It was an excellent task”

The problem with these is two-fold. They don’t have a specific definition as they are subjective; what I ‘like’ or think is ‘good’ is not what you think’. Secondly, they give the impression that what the teacher is doing is ‘right’ and conversely that there may be a ‘wrong’ way of doing things. Additionally if you happen to use the word ‘good’ there are still connotations with previous gradings.

But we’ve used this language for so long that it’s going to take a while to shake it off.

I believe the power in coaching observations is in the questions the observer asks the observed before and after the lesson. But these also need to be carefully considered. Look at these:

“Did you mean for that child to do that?”

“Did you realise they didn’t all finish?”

“How could you have done it differently?”

These are also laden with judgements. They are giving the observers view on an aspect of the lesson. Instead of these questions I would suggest:

“What were the students doing when..? Was this planned? Why?”

“Did all students complete what you expected them to? Why?”

“Do you think X was effective? Why? Would you change it if you taught it again? Why?”

So, for those moving to a coaching model, working on questioning and using as objective language as possible seems to be a key area for training and support.

The problem with teaching RE; it’s about opinions


There are actually many problems. However this short blog will focus on the nature of RE and the unique issue it has; it’s about opinions.

I see it as our job to teach these opinions, with critique, in a neutral, balanced style* as possible.

Therein lies a problem, can a teacher teach something neutrally? And indeed should they?

If I follow religion or a set of beliefs will these not come through in how I teach, what I focus on and the language I use? Should we teach a balanced view of racism and homophobia ?

I personally don’t tell students (or colleagues in school or elsewhere) about my faith. I want them to see me as a teacher, not a Muslim teacher or a Buddhist teacher. Sometimes my opinions come through. It’s human nature. Last week I commented on the kind Mr Gove sending us all a huge King James Bible. The students were probably clear about my thoughts on this. I really do try to avoid it and generally refuse if they ask me an opinion on something that isn’t illegal or could confuse them.

However this blog isn’t about telling students about your faith (another blog in that) but how RE is unique in that people’s own faith can seriously affect how it’s taught. I’m worried about that. On RE forums I’ve seen a discussion on an issue start with critique and then people with a faith become angry and upset that people may have critiqued something they believe as truth. If they’re doing this on an RE forum (not a faith forum) then what are they saying to the children they teach? Are they allowing them that freedom of critique even if they don’t agree? I fear not. And therein lies a huge danger.

I think we should allow students to explore all opinions and we should move away from presenting them with opinions, to them thinking of the variety of opinions there may be and doing independent research to find opinions they haven’t considered. If we give them the skills to come to their own balanced judgment then we’ve done our job. Giving them the opinions and/or telling them what to believe/is right or wrong, is problematical.

This leads on to the controversial issues. If we teach racism from a neutral perspective are we condoning it? In my lessons I’m developing the art of critique and this includes logic of reasoning, credibility & reliability. Students need to work out the illogical reasoning & flaws of racism. If I just said to them were not going to look at the views from the perspective of a racist I’m limiting their ability to skilfully assess reasoning. I’m not there to tell them, I’m there to help them to work it out. This is why I have issues with some faith schools. Some are limiting the students’ ability to do this and therefore are not giving their students the opportunity for further study (again, another blog).

I think the power of RE comes to developing the skills needed to study religions to come to insightful, logical, fully reasoned balanced arguments, not telling them ‘right’ from ‘wrong’**. In my opinion that is confessional RE or Religious Instruction which for the majority of people was ditched in at least 1988.

RE really does have its own issues that other subjects don’t.

* when I refer to ‘neutral’ in this blog I mean looking at both/all sides of an argument rather than presenting only one side.

**I do however make British law very clear to them

The role of keywords in assessing knowledge & understanding


As part of my thinking on assessment I’ve been looking at how to assess knowledge & understanding. I’ve been considering stages of knowledge and whether it is possible to use this to ensure students’ thinking is based on solid foundations and then stretched further by more complex concepts.

One area I’ve been struggling to structure is the use of keywords. I added ‘keywords’ into all the stages and thought about how the vocabulary that is used in more complex concepts will differ.

I’m now considering how the use of keywords in themselves can be an indicator of knowledge & understanding.

I will try to explain using an example from my own subject area.

The new GCSE subject content gives the following for knowledge & understanding relating to the crucifixion of Jesus:

  • incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension
  • salvation, including law, sin, grace and Spirit, the role of Christ in salvation, and the nature of atonement

These are key concepts that students need to understand to truly understand what this event in Christianity means for Christians. 

I wil take the key concept of ‘atonement’. 

If we go from the simplest way to understand this concept, using foundation knowledge & vocabulary then we can see how the complexity of this concept may be broken down, as follows:

  1. Saying sorry for something you’ve done wrong (apology)
  2. Saying sorry and someone forgiving you (forgiveness)
  3. Sinning and asking God to forgive you (repentance)
  4. Sinning and asking God to forgive you, knowing that Jesus dying enables this to be accepted (salvation)
  5. Reestablishing (‘covering’) the pre-sin relationship between man and God ‘At-one-ment’ (Atonement)

Without an understanding of the prior concepts and keywords it would be difficult to understand the final concept of atonement. 

So how can this be used in teaching?

My new plan is to come up with the key vocabulary (alongside threshold concepts – another blog) for each topic or unit of work. I can then use these to check if the students have understood before I move on. This could happen in a lesson or over several lessons depending on the students foundation knowledge & understanding.

This checking can be done at the beginning, at intervals and/or at the end. Ideally as frequently as possible but realistically at least at the beginning and end.

This could be done in several ways:

Questioning – if I ask a student “what will God forgive?” They have to understand the concept of forgives to give a correct answer. Regular, targeted questions should give a good idea of what they do/don’t understand.

Written response – ask students a question, write a statement that means they have to show which concepts they know and understand. For example, “Salvation is possible for everyone” requires them to understand what it is to decide whether it can apply to everyone.

Multiple choice/diagnostic qu – I’m trialling this. A quick way to see what they do/don’t know and understand.

‘Final assessment‘ – however this is completed students will be told they must use the keywords learnt. They can have a list of them. It’s not a test to see if they remember the word, it is checking to see if they fully understand it enough by using it correctly in their work. Setting self differentiating tasks on this means all can achieve and show what they’ve learnt.

These keywords are essential in my new assessment systems as they are a key part of seeing if a student has understood the content.

This has already been highlighted in a student essay on marriage that looked great in terms of structure but had no key terms for the topic in it; it was essentially a sociology essay.

To avoid this from now on all assessed written pieces will have a set of student generated keywords as a part of the essay planning process.

Context is king


Over the weekend Nicky Morgan made comments on how she proposes to deal with ‘coasting’ schools. She confirms that she means those that ‘just’ get enough to be RI or those where ‘every child doesn’t make progress’.  Whilst we could argue about the semantics of ‘coasting’ I fully agree that schools that seem to consistently be 3/4 need to be sorted.

However, throughout this all there is an implication that a ‘one size fits all’ approach will work. This is where there will be problems.

The schools that Nicky is referring to have huge challenges;not just getting better results. We’re not talking about the Outstanding school that drops to Inadequate overnight due to their lack of British values. We’re talking about schools that are usually in socially deprived areas or unique social situations. Recruitment of teachers is hugely problematic ( more than other schools) and the poor reputation of the school usually comes before any of the good.

But these contexts are not new. They’ve been this way for years and years. One of them used to be on the largest council estate in Europe. The crime rates and deprivation are nothing new. Some are in areas where they are guaranteed work in local industries regardless of grades. Some have low aspirations.

The problem is that these are rarely taken into account. I don’t mean make excuses. I mean take into account the context of the school and then deal with it head on. Telling these schools you will become an Academy means nothing unless the people that ‘take over’ understand and can deal with the intricacies of the context. One academy chain that seems to be working well in one area of the country may have absolutely no idea how to deal with this next school. And we’ve seen this happen locally. Some are now into their second sponsor. The first having no idea how to deal with the social issues the schools presented. Coming along with great pedagogical ideas and visions that just don’t work in this context.

I’m passionate about this. I’ve worked in these schools. I’ve seen students achieve great things in some subjects but not in others. They’re not impossible to teach. They need the right teaching for the right context. We need teachers and leaders that know how to get the best from these students. Not leaders who once got a job there 10/20 years ago and are sitting pretty, doing very little on 60K and retiring on it. Or a leader from the other side of the country who’s only worked in a completely different context.

So when Nicky sends these new Headteachers and NLEs in to rescue these failing schools what are the chances they will have experienced these contexts before? NLEs have to be from good/outstanding schools (or those from a category up to these). How many Headteachers does this actually apply to? And are they the ones willing to move to help out another school? With great respect to Headteachers that have always lead Outstanding schools I’m almost certain there’s only a handful of these that would know how to deal with these school contexts. Skills transfer but context doesn’t.

I’m sick of seeing the same local schools bounce between 3 and 4. Even worse when the Secretary of State for Education comes to praise it one minute and the next it goes into special measures. Let’s get real here. These schools need targeted, specialised help, in some cases some of the current staff may be able to do this with leaders who know what they’re dealing with. In others, most of the leadership needs replacing.

I can’t stand any more local headlines where new Heads say they are ‘turning around’ the school or ‘vow to make it outstanding’. Let’s get on with the real job; recognising the context & putting together a strong team to manage it.

Either way a ‘one size fits all’ approach does not work. Becoming an academy doesn’t work. They already are.

Context is king.



David Ashton has already blogged on the use of media in GCSE religious studies but I’ve been thinking more about how DVDs* are used in general in RE.

RE has its own challenges in that we are teaching beliefs and teachings that in some parts of the country seem as though students are in a different country. Their experience and perspective of their country, let alone the world is mainly if not totally white, Christian/atheist. As an RE teacher I have to somehow ‘bring to life’ something they may never experience in their entire lives;things that stretch their knowledge and understanding of how people live.

So it is little wonder that we resort to DVDs to help us out. They provide an insight into the complex world of faith that they would otherwise not see. Students can see real life believers discussing their faith and showing us how their faith impacts their lives. But there are also issues with using these.


Issues with using DVDs in RE

1.My concern is that DVDs become the ‘go to’ lesson resource. Teachers relying on them to some how make learning about religions fun, or in some cases being deliberately controversial or to shock the students. There is a belief that DVDs are more engaging than books or discussion or teacher led knowledge. In a worse case scenario DVDs are used as a behaviour management tool; ‘Put a DVD on, that’ll keep them quiet’.

I personally find this dangerous and gives students the wrong perspective of a religion. Planning along the lines of ‘I need to teach forgiveness’ with the response ‘I have a good DVD to teach that’ becomes a common way to plan lessons.

2. These DVDs usually represent the faith in its ‘purest’ form. The reality is that many believers do not fully practice the beliefs and teachings that are presented in them. Conversely, when you show clips with some reality in the students end up with a skewed view of those believers. How can we use DVDs and still give the correct perspective?

An example is in a programme on Jewish matchmaking one of the men had been into prison. The students couldn’t separate this out from why some Hasidic Jews might find it difficult to match make in the UK. Their ‘go to’ reason was ‘because they might have a criminal record’.

3. DVDs date. Some of the best ones I use are really old;at least 15-20 years old. But they are the best version of something that I can find. They present the issue/belief well. Demand for uptodate resources outweighs the commercial value for any provider to produce new material.

4. Finally, linking to David’s blog there is a temptation to use DVDs to shoehorn religious teaching; Linking to point 1. Instead of starting with what we want them to learn and using the best possible strategy to do so, we desperately try to find a DVD that will do it for us. Or in the case of GCSE we HAVE to use a DVD to teach part of it to fulfil the requirements of the specification. Many forum posts have been seen saying ‘can anyone recommend a good clip for teaching…?’.

This blog isn’t intended to stop teachers using DVDs;I will continue to use them. But rather to highlight the traps and issues overusing DVDs in RE may have. The ideal scenario is that all schools have a personal link with several members of each religion so students can meet, experience and ask all the questions they want. Maybe SACREs should be a key partner here. Schools need free, child friendly, volunteers from each religion to work closely with the RE department/coordinator.

However until that time, whilst the cost of travel to visit a religious place of worship or for a visitor to have a meaningful interaction with every child is reduced, the £10 DVD will always take precedent.

* I will refer to DVDs but am referring all types of media including videos, YouTube, web clips etc

What if we didn’t ever use grades with students?


I have already blogged on how I think data should be more about the learner and what’s happening in their learning, the current mindset on grades and also how we could report without any grades or levels. Students are focused on grades and in some cases they mean more to them than formative feedback. My own small research shows this:


Students value a grade/level more than formative comments.

This makes me consider,

What if we never give, refer to or report any numbers?

From a secondary point of view, key stage 3 is the simplest so I will consider key stage 4/5.

Most schools use key stage 2 data to look at progress through to key stage 4 using this from the DfE to decide if it is less/as/more than expected progress.

Screen Shot 2011-07-22 at 11.04.39

Teachers and consequently students are under pressure to move their grade towards at least expected. This method relies on teachers knowing what a student needs to do in their work to move on a grade, two grades etc  There is pressure on teachers to ensure the student is ‘on track’ and sometimes the pressure means that teachers add inflated predictions to the data collection system.

Grades seem to have a power to change attitudes and behaviour but not necessarily for the good. Lots of research has been done on the impact of summative feedback over grades.

Kohn sums up the key issues with grading:

  1. Grades tend to reduce students’ interest in the learning itself
  2. Grades tend to reduce students’ preference for challenging tasks.
  3.  Grades tend to reduce the quality of students’ thinking
  4. Grades aren’t valid, reliable, or objective.
  5. Grades distort the curriculum.
  6. Grades waste a lot of time that could be spent on learning
  7. Grades encourage cheating.
  8. Grades spoil teachers’ relationships with students.
  9. Grades spoil students’ relationships with each other

So I propose we consider dropping how grades are used by most schools at the moment and consider the impact of a different model.

What are the alternatives?

  1. Give feedback first, then grades once students have responded to feedback
  2. Give feedback first and the grade a week later
  3. Never give students grades on individual pieces of work but an overall grade at a given time i.e once a term
  4. Never give students grades but teachers record these in a mark-book which isn’t shared with students/parents
  5. Never give students grades until a grade is needed i.e a reference for further study

Phil Race also suggests this process for feedback:


Featured in Phil’s book – Making Learning happen

Potential issues with these

  • The grade is still the important factor
  • Some teachers choose give students grades
  • Students don’t know how they are relatively progressing across their subjects.
  • Parents & students might not ‘like’ it. Current mindset is grades matter.
  • Progression can’t be mapped so neatly in an excel spreadsheet or graph.
  • Teachers will have to use exam board criteria carefully and knowledgeably. (an issue?)
  • A current trend in assessment is using diagnostic questioning using multiple choice. How can you ‘not’ report a %?
  • Will it move back to the old APP grid style marking? (Is this a problem?)

Potential benefits

  • Students don’t compare so much
  • They’re always focused on what they need to do to improve
  • Teachers may focus more carefully on what students need to do to improve
  • The converse of Kohn’s list

Possible resolutions

  • Start this process in year 7 so they know no different
  • Diagnostic/Multiple choice
    • Don’t give % at all. Analyse question by question with them for understanding. ( but they will then add up their correct/incorrect answers!)
    •  or use these at intervals during the learning. Only report to students the improvement % not the actual % For example at the start of the course a student gets 2/15 and in the middle 7/15 and by the en 12/15. You would tell them their increase not how many they got right.
  • Use KS2 data to tell students/parents their expected KS4 grade and then use ‘on track’ and ‘not on track’ with students and parents – Isn’t this essentially what they want to know?
  • Use Phil’s process – using marks but student generated

Is it worth ditching grades or instead, refining summative feedback so that grades become less important?


Kohn –   includes a nice list of references for further reading

Phil Race – Making Learning Happen

“Miss, is this an assessment?” – Time for a culture shift


I was asked this question this week when some students were doing some extended writing. I was also asked ‘Miss, is this a test?’ as I trialled using multiple choice with my classes. I was a bit mean. I replied ‘what is a test?’. This generally confused them and they got on.

I know what they were asking. They really meant ‘Miss, does that matter?’. This, along with some discussions & tweets in the week have started me thinking that it is time for a significant culture shift in our schools. In particular, the way in which students, teachers and leaders see assessment.

A culture which we are responsible for creating. Whether it be due to league tables, Ofsted, data entry, parental pressure we have created a culture where certain pieces of work that our students complete are seen as more important than others;they are higher stakes, bigger consequence pieces of work. The piece that will be levelled, the work that links to their report grade, the answer that defines ‘where’ they are.

If we were to evaluate how well we’ve done in creating this culture, I think we’ve done really well. It’s just a shame that it has the wrong emphasis (maybe it was what was needed at the time?) and this needs to change.

So now that schools have or are considering dropping levels we have a real chance to shift this emphasis.  We need to think carefully about what we want assessment to be used for, how we will do it and what the consequences are, intended or unintended.

An example where we have created a process that we need to reconsider is asking students about their work. Originally teachers were told ‘all students need to know what level they’re working at’. So we either drilled them or stuck a sticker on their books that they could quickly refer to, to give that level. Then people realised that wasn’t enough and added ‘they also need to be able to say what they need to do to improve’. So teachers then started using processes to try to ensure their students had the ‘correct’ answer to whoever was asking.

Another example where our culture has skewed things is via termly/half termly ‘assessments’. We have placed high value on single pieces of work where students are given the levelled criteria, looked at their own level and then done what they needed to do to achieve their target level. The focus was on achieving the level rather than what they needed to do differently from last time to make a difference. The effect was that students valued these pieces more and mostly put more effort into them as they knew that this work ‘meant something’.

So, now we can choose not to have levels, we can change this focus from a single outcome or a ‘correct response’ and start to create new processes that will provide a more whole picture of learning.

The biggest hurdle is we have years of embedded mindset (a current buzz word)  to change; the students being some of the toughest mindsets to change. And whilst schools can mainly do what they want in between, we are still stuck with key stage testing and GCSEs/A Levels that will need clever managing to ensure the mindset isn’t derailed.

So what do we need to do to change this mindset?

Consider the language and emphasis we use when referring to pieces of work.

Spread the ‘value’ across all work not particular assessment pieces. Everything matters.

Create assessment systems that are fully & smoothly interlinked with what we want our students to learn

Change what we ask students if we want to find out how they’re progressing

Not give any ‘value’ judgements to students or parents – No ‘5a’/master/beginner/emerging/85%/a* etc (this will be another blog)