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CPD, Outstanding Lessons, Redesigning Classrooms

Classroom Excellence Demands Destination Clarity

It’s about this time of year that thoughts turn to planning a summer holiday.  Most of the debate often centres round where to go.  Once you’ve decided on the destination there are different ways of getting there, all equally valid.  How to get there tends to be an easier and more practical part of the discussion.

Walkerville, Victoria, Australia. A holiday snap :-)

Walkerville, Victoria, Australia. A holiday snap 🙂

Much of this is true for planning a learning journey.  The start and end points of any learning journey are the key, however, too often the focus shifts to the practicalities of the journey without sufficient clarity about the destination.  This can lead to a series of activities being planned some of which have a debatable inclusion in the learning process.

Full T&L Planner

Draft plan produced by Simon Marsh, St. Mary’s Catholic Academy


The real highlights of my half term have been around the professional development work done with groups of and individual staff across our three academies (I know, I really should get out more).  The work, focussed on planning great lessons, has been fascinating for me as it has involved working in phases and with subjects which are well beyond my own current knowledge or experience.  The commonality in planning processes carried out by staff, at its core, from early years to post-16 were surprisingly similar.  A lot of the work was not about teaching staff new things but about giving them new insights.  It required then to reorder much of what they already knew and did into a coherent schema for planning.

Flow Diagram of Lesson Planning

The Music Man

Following a voluntary CPD session with staff at St. Mary’s, I had a number of conversations with individual staff to help them grasp the planning process for a specific unit of learning they would shortly be teaching.  One such conversation was with our teacher of Music, Simon.  His first attempt at determining the end point success criteria for the unit was:

“To compose a piece of music to meet a chosen brief.”

T&L Planner - First attempt

My job here as a coach is very simple, I just need to ask some basic questions:

Has this end point success criteria defined excellence for you and the students? 

Could it be more specific?  How would you do this?

Could it be more extensive?  How would you do this?

Is it sufficiently challenging for the class/year group?  How would you make it more/less challenging?

Then back to, has this end point success criteria now defined excellence for you and the students? 

We ended up after a few minutes with the end point success criteria now reading:

“To compose a piece of music with a range of melodies, counter melodies, accompaniment and stylistic idiomatic features, to create descriptive music, to a given brief.”

Simon was now satisfied he had defined excellence for himself and the students.  The end point success criterion was specific, extensive and challenging.  The task of deconstructing and them sequencing a series of milestone success criteria was relatively easy.  The first was about melodies, the second about counter-melodies and finally one on about stylistic and idiomatic features that the composition should contain.

End Point & Milestone Success Criteria

End Point & Milestone Success Criteria

We repeated the process to make the milestone success criteria specific, extensive and challenging.  Each successive criterion started to expose the learning required.  It was fascinating watching Simon work on this as he explained then sung to me the details of what he would be looking for.  The coaching role was probably helped by the fact that I didn’t know the answers to the questions I was asking.  It allowed Simon to think without me interrupting or prompting too much.  As an aside, if a teacher doesn’t know or can’t determine the success criteria then s/he is likely to require a specialist to give initial support around subject knowledge rather than a coach.  Key concepts to be taught and common mis-conceptions by students are identified at this stage.


There is often a need to put the brakes on teachers at this stage.  They want to move to the practicalities of the teaching, delivery in the class room, whilst there are still real benefits to further defining curriculum excellence by staying with the planning process.  The next stage it to determine the most appropriate means for assessing prior learning and the end point success criterion.  Following this it is crucial to think through how each of the milestone criteria will be assessed.  The assessments are an integral part of the process of defining excellence.  The degree of difficulty of the assessment exposes the depth and breadth of learning which is required.

Prior Attainment Assessment

A listening test on pieces of programme music that will require pupils to describe the mood of music, compare and contrast pieces of music to discern interpretations of the story behind the music. The listening test will also encompass knowledge of musical elements, including pitch, tempo, dynamics, rhythm and timbre.

Final T& L Planner

End Point Success Criterion Assessment

I thought this was very clever – Simon, had given the students a choice of two different briefs to choose from.  The students used one of the briefs to practice and develop their skills as he taught them the various elements.  For the end point assessment the student was given the other brief and required to independently compose a piece of music with a range of melodies, counter melodies, accompaniment and stylistic idiomatic features to create descriptive music.

Milestone Success Criteria Assessments

These help a teacher catch any lack of learning early in the process.  Following analysis of the assessment’s results an element may need to be retaught or feedback given with students improving their work to the standard required.  It is the ultimate way of closing the gap – catch a loss of learning early in the process, don’t allow the gap to appear.

  1. Performance of melodies to the class to see if melodies suit the given character. Peer/teacher feedback will be given on the overall sound of the melody and any improvements to be made. The assessment criteria will be based upon the learning intentions of appropriate instruments, tempo, pitch, rhythm, dynamics and timbre.
  2. Performance of both main melody and counter melodies to the class. This will be assessed against the learning intention criteria. Peer/teacher feedback will be given in line with the last learning intention to improve the counter melodies and main themes.
  3. Formative assessment against the background content and its suitability against the storyline chosen, against the learning intention criteria of tempo, texture, dynamics, pitch, rhythm and timbre.

The Rule of Three & Arches

SC1 & Learning Intentions

This is the point at which the learning intentions or objectives are written.  If the learning is identified before excellence has been fully determined, through success criteria and assessments, then the gains may only lead to mediocrity, no matter how well defined.  The learning intentions are sequential; MS stands for Multistructural, R is for Relational and EA means Extended Abstract.  The terms are taken from the SOLO Taxonomy – there are various posts on the blog about this.  The learning intentions make clear what knowledge has to be taught and this is the point at which pedagogy needs to be discussed.

The process in full looks like this:

Deconstructed SC Schema

I’ve worked with the Maths Department and Christ the King Catholic Academy on full INSET days and over a series of twilights with staff from St. Cuthbert’s Catholic Academy.  The work is focussed on the twin aims of teacher clarity and planning for excellence.  This is no quick fix or silver bullet.  It is core collaborative planning of the knowledge to be taught and the pedagogy to be used.  I’ll blog the outcomes of these sessions in the near future.

A copy of the final scheme of learning, written by Simon in a style that suits him, is here:

Year 9 Project Based Learning Scheme of Work – Programme Music – PDF



8 thoughts on “Classroom Excellence Demands Destination Clarity

  1. Reblogged this on Teach Magdalen and commented:
    This follows on from some of our thinking about “What Am I Teaching Them?” and links with Helen Wolfenden’s SOLO Taxonomy workshop. Well worth a read……and perhaps some collaboration ourselves.

    Posted by Tom Hollis | February 19, 2015, 11:17 am


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