Getting E’s to B’s Just let them learn.

This post, I hope, provides some evidence that if you give students responsibility to decide their own pathway through a academic course, their progress is positively affected. How this is facilitated obviously plays a key role to it’s success.

This post’s evidence is based on GCSE Maths classes where students were regularly testing at low D’s and E’s.

There is no reason why this cannot be adapted for any curriculum area, as the progress is down to pedagogy not content.

I use GCSE papers for data and  guidance. Some may argue that it’s teaching to the test. My response is, we are all teaching in some way towards some form of terminal assessment. During this Journey, if students can develop the ability to become independent creative learners, then their level of understanding and experience goes beyond that of which a GCSE examines.

Step 1 

Gap Analysis. The whole class complete an exam paper in exam conditions which is then analysed using conditional formatting in an excel spread sheet. The assessment be adapted to fit the length of the lesson, I often use half an exam paper to fit the 1 hour lesson format our school has. Exposure to real external exam questions has it’s obvious benefits.


This is a very powerful tool both to me, and the students. Vertically it shows me whole class strengths and areas for development. Horizontally it shows the students where their focus needs to be.

Initially this was quite a time consuming exercise I did myself. It’s now a class activity that only takes around 20 minutes to process, collect and input the data. A worth while investment in time, that has the students captivated as they watch the spread sheet evolve.

The above example shows class results from a higher level Maths paper. Green signifies full marks, white half marks or more, red below half marks.

Step 2

Personal Progress Action Plan. Each student then spends time planning their focus for the next week or fortnight and recording it on their Personal Progress Action Plan sheet (Click here for a copy)


This sheet will typically last for Half a term. The tick boxes down the side are for personal fruition. Progress Sheets are regularly monitored by myself. Students share at the beginning and end of the lesson what they plan to do and what they have learned.

The creativity of the students during this phase always impresses me. Work related conversations spontaneously begin on Edmodo, learning posters get produced without being requested and students begin teaching each other in class.  For those who are skeptical that allowing students to chose what they do will lead to a break down in lesson structure and a loss of control, I have experienced quite the opposite.

Many of the students like to record their notes using learning summary sheets. (see my post ‘evidence of learning‘)

Step 3

Test to measure progress. It was the students who decided the two weekly test rotation, but this can be adjusted to best fit. Past exam papers are used, and we tend to maintain focus on either the calculator or non calculator paper for three rotations. Again this is flexible.

Regular referrals to grade boundaries allow students to see their progress and how many marks they need to reach the next grade. 15 marks (about a grade on one paper) broken down over 3 weeks equates to under 2 marks a lesson. Put like this every student in the class believes they can achieve.

Progress obviously varies from group to group and year on year. Questions on whether it’s the technique or other factors that are responsible for the progress students make, can also be asked. I can only comment on personal experience, but over the last 2 years, an increasing number of students are making 2 and sometimes 3 GCSE grades of progress in a year using this technique. They are also taking responsibility for their own learning and coming to class with questions that are a direct response to their independent studies. This allows me to use class time more effectively and support individuals with exactly the issues that will promote further progress. This mirrors the advantages of the flipped learning model.

Next Steps

The summer Break has allow me to look into applications that will further enhance independent learning. These include

  • Padlet (web publishing wall)
  • (live twitter feed)
  • sorify (collect and publish web media)
  • Aurasma (Bringing displays to life. Augmented reality)

Blogs on my progress and experience with these will follow.