Have students learned what you intended them to learn? How do you know?

It’s a deceptively simple question. Once we’ve established our intended curriculum, and thought carefully about why we want pupils to learn what we want them to learn, we then need to check if they’ve learned it at regular intervals. If they haven’t, or if they’ve forgotten, we need to take measures, re-teach, re-explain and check again. If the curriculum is the progression model, which it absolutely should be, then having a secure understanding of what students have learned, and how we know, is vital for all the children in our care.

Teachers: three strategies

As a class teacher, it should be relatively straight forward to know what the pupils know at any given time. In my view, the best ways are:


Short recap quizzes at the start of each lesson review prior knowledge and should span different time frames: some questions can recap last lesson, while others should require children to retrieve information from weeks, months and years ago. We do retrieval practice in different ways, but this ten-quiz multi-choice quiz, developed by the brilliant Daniel Blackburn, are our current favourites. It’s quick to monitor errors and any gaps in memory can immediately be retaught on the board.

Daily quizzes, testing recall of both recent and long-term knowledge.

Choral response

Traditionally, I would ask individual pupils to give me the answers of quiz questions. Now, I do choral response. Pupils call out collectively the correct answer, and it’s amazing how much you can tell from voices in unison. Confident voices with no hesitation indicate the answer is secure; any lowering in volume or stuttering starts indicate a short explanation is required, and this question returned to in a few weeks.

Whole-class feedback

Teachers who read their pupils’ work regularly are the ones who best know how much has been learned. They also tend to be the ones who are most excited about what their classes can produce. Reading a class-set of books should take no more than 30 minutes, and any gaps and next steps can be verbally relayed and acted upon.

Leaders: the benefits of shared feedback records

As a head of department or senior leader, it can be far harder to know exactly what pupils have learned. This is something I’ve struggled with as a curriculum lead: when you only teach a fraction of the children for whom you are responsible, how can you really know where they are in their learning? I may have a spreadsheet full of data, and this tells me something about their relative attainment, but it fails to tell me anything meaningful about what parts of the curriculum they know and what they don’t. It fails to tell me what parts of any test need re-addressing. It fails to tell me where the curriculum needs altering.

So, what’s the answer? How can school leaders accurately answer our vital question, have students learned what you intended them to learn? How do you know?

Clearly, discussion and close collaboration within departments is crucial. And for me, shared feedback records are the tool to make this happen. I’ve been following in the footsteps of Anthony Radice at Great Yarmouth Charter in launching shared feedback records to the English department, and now to the rest of the school. They are a way of sharing all the hugely valuable whole-class feedback teachers are giving to their groups. Rather than jotting down class feedback in individual notebooks, it gets put on a shared document that looks a bit like this:

An example of shared feedback records for one unit of work.

So far, the benefits are:

  • All members of staff can see the strengths and next steps identified for all groups. We can learn from each other’s best practice. Less experienced staff can see the diagnostic scrutiny of more experienced ones. Everyone can learn from one other.
  • As a leader, I can see exactly what parts of the curriculum pupils know, and what parts are patchy. I can see what teachers are doing to address areas of concern before any summative tests.
  • We can find patterns in what pupils are struggling with, and use these as a basis of curriculum redesign and development.

It’s exciting to work at a time when more focus is placed upon the curriculum and its impact. Shared feedback records are a useful way to help everyone know the ever-changing answer to what the students have learned.

Considering education, schools and books. Elisabeth Bowling, Assistant Principal and Head of English. I tweet at @elucymay.

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